Mom of Afzaal family member called it 'an attack against the safety and security of all Canadians'
Warning: This story contains distressing details.
After less than six hours of deliberations, the jury in the Nathaniel Veltman murder trial in Windsor, Ont., has reached a verdict of guilty of four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder related to the truck attack on a Muslim family in London in 2021.
The 12-member jury in the more than 10-week trial began deliberations on Wednesday and released its verdict early Thursday afternoon.
The attack drew condemnation across Canada and around the world, after police labelled it a hate crime related to anti-Muslim sentiments. First-degree murder carries an automatic sentence of life with no possibility of parole for 25 years.
The Afzaals were out for an evening walk in suburban London when they were struck by the truck — which was driven by Veltman, information that was part of an agreed statement of facts. Yumnah Afzaal, 15, her parents Madiha Salman, 44, and Salman Afzaal, 46, and family matriarch Talat Afzaal, 74, were killed. A nine-year-old boy also injured in the attack survived.
The 22-year-old had pleaded not guilty to murder, attempted murder and associated terror charges in the attack on the Afzaal family on June 6, 2021.
The defence had argued Veltman didn't intend to kill the family, so made a case for him to be convicted of manslaughter.
Judge acknowledges emotional trial
The public gallery in Ontario Superior Court was full Thursday as the court waited for the jury, and the lawyers and the 22-year-old to enter. Members of the Muslim community cried and hugged as they awaited the verdict. One person handed out tissues for those walking into the courtroom.
Before the jury delivered its verdict, Justice Renee Pomerance told the packed courtroom she knew the trial had been an emotional and difficult one, but asked that the public refrain from reacting visibly to jurors' findings.
Despite the urgings of the judge, gasps could be heard in the courtroom and many people cried as the jury foreperson said, "We find the defendant guilty of first-degree murder."
Veltman stared straight ahead as the decision was delivered and showed no emotion.
Nathaniel Veltman murder trial: What the jury didn’t hear
22 hours ago
Featured VideoWARNING: This video contains distressing content. A jury is deliberating the fate of Nathaniel Veltman, accused of terrorism-motivated first-degree murder and attempted murder in the 2021 truck attack on five members of the Afzaal family in London, Ont. CBC’s Thomas Daigle breaks down the key evidence against Veltman and some of what the jury didn’t hear in the case.
A sentencing hearing will be held Dec. 1 to hear victim impact statements and findings of fact from Pomerance that will ultimately say whether or not the attack was a terrorist act under law. That hearing will be held in London at the Afzaal family's request.
Outside the courthouse Thursday, defence lawyer Christopher Hicks told reporters that his client is in shock and absorbing the idea of at least 25 years in prison.
Hicks also said if's not clear if terror played any role in the jury's verdict, and the judge may speak about that aspect of the case at the sentencing hearing.
"The judge can take her own view of the facts — the jury's decision doesn't say whether they found him guilty of first-degree murder according tot he Criminal Code … or because of the terrorism allegations. We don't know. We can't ask the jury any questions. We'll see what the judge says at the sentencing hearing."
The trial was moved to Windsor well before proceedings began. Until the jury went out for deliberations, reasons for the relocation were under a publication ban, but they can now be reported. Pomerance ruled in August 2022 that the trial should be moved from London because of the intense media coverage of the attack, including comments from the prime minister, Ontario premier and London mayor that condemned the attack.
Reaction to the verdict came quickly.
Tabinda Bukhari, the mother of Madiha Salman, was among those speaking to reporters outside the Windsor courthouse.
On behalf of the family, Bukhari expressed gratitude to everyone who supported them over the last two-plus years.
"While this verdict does not bring back our loved ones, it is a recognition by the justice system that the perpetrator of these heinous crimes … intended to instil fear and terror in our hearts.
"This was not just an attack against a Muslim family, but rather an attack against the safety and security of all Canadians," said Bukhari.
"The trial and verdict are a reminder there is much more work to be done to address the hatred that exists in our society."
Each of us has an obligation, as individuals and as a society, to combat and confront hatred in all its forms. This verdict does not absolve us of that responsibility. Instead, it must serve as an eternal reminder of the need to remain committed to this effort so that it never happens again.
– London Mayor Josh Morgan
London Mayor Josh Morgan said, "While this represents an important step towards closure for the Muslim community, and our city at large, it is by no means the end of that journey.
"No amount of justice can ever bring back Our London Family.
"Each of us has an obligation, as individuals and as a society, to combat and confront hatred in all its forms," Morgan said in his statement. :This verdict does not absolve us of that responsibility. Instead, it must serve as an eternal reminder of the need to remain committed to this effort so that it never happens again.
"The City of London is unwavering in its dedication to dismantling Islamophobia, racism, and hate. We will spread to other communities lessons in understanding, inclusivity, and love. It is through all of these actions that we will continue to honour the memory of Our London Family."
Throughout the trial, the prosecution argued it was a terrorist act, one defined in the Criminal Code as an intentional killing motivated by a political, ideological or religious purpose, objective or cause, and one intended to intimidate the public or a segment of the public.
The National Council of Canadian Muslims posted on X, formerly known as Twitter: "We are relieved to see that the man who killed four members of #OurLondonFamily has been convicted on all counts. We are relieved that justice has been served."
We are relieved to see that the man who killed four members of <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/OurLondonFamily?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#OurLondonFamily</a> has been convicted on all counts. <br><br>We are relieved that justice has been served. <br><br>This is a time for reflection and solidarity. With the family. With the community in London, Ontario. <br><br>We have to… <a href="https://t.co/a8woB2EDK1">pic.twitter.com/a8woB2EDK1</a>
London's three NDP members of provincial parliament issued a release saying, "Today's verdict brings well-deserved justice for the Afzaal family and the London community. Our community's loss, with multiple generations of a family lost to hate, is irreparable.
"Our hearts are with the Afzaal family and their loved ones today. We are thinking of everyone in the community as we continue to mourn this loss together," added the release from MPPs Teresa Armstrong (London—Fanshawe), Terence Kernaghan (London North Centre) and Peggy Sattler (London West).
Pomerance told jurors they could find the accused guilty of first-degree murder if they agree the attack was planned and deliberate, or if it was a terrorist act, or a combination of the two. Under Canadian law, jury deliberations and the reasons for a verdict are secret, so lawyers and the public will not know how or why the jury came to their decision. They do not need to specify if terrorism was a factor in their decision.
Agreed facts vs. defence, Crown arguments
During the trial, the defence conceded the accused struck the family. According to the prosecution, the accused was motivated by political, ideological or religious ideas when he drove his truck into the family. They also say he intended to intimidate a segment of the population — Muslim people — which is part of the Criminal Code definition of terrorism.
"The Crown must prove that he planned and deliberated," Pomerance told jurors in a three-hour charge explaining how to apply the law to the facts of the case before they began deliberations.
"He didn't know the members of the Afzaal family. He might not have planned to kill them as individuals. The question is, 'Did he formulate a plan and deliberate about whether he would kill Muslims that he would come across in his travels?'"
Court heard that on two other occasions in the days before running over the Afzaal family, the accused had urges to drive into a group of Muslim people: Once on June 5, 2021, when he went to Toronto which he knew had a large Muslim population, and again earlier on June 6, while driving home from work.
Prosecutors usually don't have to prove motive, but they do in the case of terrorism, Pomerance told the jury.
"Terrorism need not be the only motivation but it has to be at least in part the reason for the violence."
For terrorism, the act of violence is not an end in itself, but rather an attempt to intimidate the public as it relates to their security, she said.
"To intimidate is to frighten, to disrupt the feeling of safety, stability and belonging that is ordinarily enjoyed by citizens in a free and democratic society."
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