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Judge rules killer of London, Ont., Muslim family committed terrorism, calling it a ‘textbook case’

The actions of a man convicted of killing a London, Ont., family in 2021 because of their Muslim faith amounted to terrorism, a judge ruled Thursday on the final day of Nathaniel Veltman's sentencing hearing. Afzaal family relatives say the sentence, including life in prison, "has brought relief to people near and far."

Afzaal relatives say the sentence, including life in prison, bring 'relief to people near and far'

People walking

Warning: This story contains distressing details.

The actions of a man who was convicted of murder and attempted murder and deliberately drove his truck into five members of the Afzaal family in London, Ont., on June 6, 2021, amounted to terrorism under Canadian law, a judge ruled Thursday

"I have chosen not to name the offender nor share the hateful things he shared with police or in his manifesto. This is because his actions constitute terrorist activity," Superior Court Justice Renee Pomerance told a packed courtroom.

"In fact, one could say this was a textbook case of terrorist activity."

A jury in Windsor, Ont., found Nathaniel Veltman, 23, guilty of four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder in November.

Yumnah Afzaal, 15, her parents — Madiha Salman, 44, an engineer, and Salman Afzaal, 46, a physiotherapist — were killed, as was family matriarch Talat Afzaal, 74, a teacher and artist. The boy who survived was among dozens of people who gave victim impact statements in January during the first part of the sentencing.

The murder convictions carry an automatic sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years, but it was up to Pomerance to determine whether his actions constituted terrorism, based on the facts considered by the jury that convicted him. The judge also sentenced him to a concurrent life sentence for the attempted murder of the orphaned boy — defence lawyers had asked for 10 years.

Afzaal family relatives express relief, thanks

Relatives of the Afzaal family released a statement after the hearing.

"Today's sentencing has brought relief to people near and far," the statement said. "We would like to thank the justice system, the Crown attorneys, the team of investigators, London police department support services, RCMP and media outlets for their efforts to bring justice to our loved ones.

"We would like to thank our family and friends along with the community of London, Windsor and the public at large for all their support during this difficult time."

WATCH | Cousin reads victim impact statement of boy orphaned after Muslim family attack:

Boy whose family was killed in Islamophobic attack speaks for 1st time

2 months ago

Duration 2:51

A boy left orphaned by an Islamophobic attack on his family in London, Ont., says he wishes he could still have his sister to fight with, his mom's cooking and the house he grew up in. His words were read aloud at the sentencing hearing of his family's convicted murderer, Nathaniel Veltman.

In her decision handed down Thursday, Pomerance refused to detail the racist, white supremacist ideology the accused espoused.

"There is no place in Canadian society for the hatred and racism that spawned the offender's actions. Because they have no place in Canadian society, they will not be given a place in my reasons."

"On June 6, 2021, five members of the Afzaal family went for a walk on a warm summer evening. Neither they nor anyone else could have anticipated the terrible fate that awaited them," she said.

"He stopped to put on combat gear, a military helmet and a bulletproof vest. He drove until he spied the Afzaal family. He believed them to be Muslim based on the clothing they wore. He drove by the family of five, stopped and then turned around, drove towards them, drove into the victims at full speed without touching the brakes.

"This event sent ripples of fear and devastation throughout the London community and beyond. He killed them because they were Muslim."

The Crown's case was overwhelming, Pomerance said.

Ahead of Thursday's hearing, Amira Elghawaby, Canada's Special Representative on Combatting Islamophobia, said the facts of the case clearly point to terrorism.

"There is no doubt that the Afzaal family were killed in a deliberate act of anti-Muslim hate, and it's clear from having listened to the testimony and from seeing and understanding the evidence — this was an act that terrorized London and communities across the country," Elghawaby said.

The Crown had argued it would be hard to imagine a stronger case for terrorism than this one — the convicted killer wrote a white supremacist manifesto, deliberately drove his pickup truck into the family because of the traditional Pakistani clothing they were wearing, and confessed to wanting to send a violent message to other Muslims and inspire other angry white men.

"The offender wanted to make Muslims fearful of being in Canada, fearful of going to the park, the mosque, and living their lives. He wanted to drive this fear in Muslims and instil so much fear that Muslims would leave the country," Crown prosecutor Sarah Shaikh told Pomerance at the January hearing.

Our justice system has an obligation to ensure that people of all faiths and backgrounds feel like they belong, and that includes holding people accountable when they engage in acts of terrorism against racialized minorities.

– Nawaz Tahir, lawyer and Hikma board member

Minority communities in Canada want the judge's ruling to reflect the reality that they can be terrorized and the justice system will hold perpetrators accountable, London lawyer Nawaz Tahir, who sits on the board of Hikma, a public advocacy group that speaks on behalf of Muslims, said before the sentence was handed down.

"It's important legally but it's also important from a belonging perspective," Tahir said. "Our justice system has an obligation to ensure that people of all faiths and backgrounds feel like they belong, and that includes holding people accountable when they engage in acts of terrorism against racialized minorities."

Defence lawyers argued their client was not motivated by a particular ideology.

"He did hold extreme right-wing beliefs," Christopher Hicks argued. "These were evident when considering his testimony. But the question is whether he adhered to an ideology and if he committed the crime to intimidate a segment of the population. We say that the Crown did not prove that he did."

His client's beliefs, however abhorrent, don't form an ideology, Hicks said.

Adding the terrorism designation doesn't add to the length of Veltman's life sentence, but could be a factor in his future parole board applications.

It would also be the first time in Canadian history that someone who holds white supremacist views would meet the threshold for terrorism, Elghawaby said.

"Concerns of far-right extremism have been significant and the hope is that the decision will reflect the worries that communities have had that these kinds of deliberate acts are being fully addressed within the Canadian justice system."

London Morning5:43Was the Afzaal family murder an act of terrorism?

CBC reporter Kate Dubinski has been following the murder trial of Nathaniel Veltman. Kate joined London Morning with an update on the sentencing hearing where the judge will decide if the mass murder was an act of terrorism.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kate Dubinski

Reporter/Editor

Kate Dubinski is a radio and digital reporter with CBC News in London, Ont. You can email her at kate.dubinski@cbc.ca.

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Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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