Man accused in truck attack that killed four in London now facing terror charges
Liam Casey, The Canadian Press
Published Monday, June 14, 2021 5:39AM EDT
Last Updated Monday, June 14, 2021 7:11PM EDT
A vehicle attack against a Muslim family in southwestern Ontario that left four dead and one seriously injured was an act of terrorism, prosecutors argued Monday as they upgraded the charges against the man accused in the incident.
Nathaniel Veltman, 20, had been charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder in the June 6 incident in London, Ont., which police have called an act motivated by hate against the Islamic faith.
Federal Crown Sarah Shaikh said Monday that prosecutors were going ahead with terrorism proceedings after receiving consent from the country's attorney general.
“Mr. Veltman, you are now charged with four counts of first-degree murder,” Shaikh said in virtual court. “In addition to the allegation that these murders were planned and deliberate, the further allegation is that they also constitute terrorism offences.”
Veltman, who has yet to retain a lawyer, said he understood the charges.
Salman Afzaal, 46, his 44-year-old wife Madiha Salman, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna and her 74-year-old grandmother, Talat Afzaal were killed while out for an evening walk. A black pickup truck veered onto the sidewalk into the family and fled the scene, police said.
The couple's nine-year-old son, Fayez, was seriously injured but is expected to recover.
London police allege the incident was a planned and premeditated attack targeting Muslims, but have not explained how they came to that conclusion.
Saboor Khan, a friend of the family, said upgrading the charges against Veltman was “the right thing to do.”
“The family and the community has been terrorized and many of us are afraid to leave our homes,” Khan said.
“It has changed everything - just the randomness of it and the fact that we all live in this very diverse neighbourhood - it's just not a comfortable time right now.”
Police have said there is no known link between Veltman and any hate group. On Monday, they issued a statement reassuring people in London that “there is no further known or suspected threat to the public associated to the accused at this time.”
Over the weekend, hundreds of mourners attended the funeral for the Afzaal family. Their son remained in hospital and was unable to attend.
Khan said the boy was “managing OK,” and was surrounded by the love and support of his extended family.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland applauded the new charges against Veltman during a news conference Monday morning.
“I think it is really important for us to name it as an act of terror,” she said. “It is important for us to identify this as an act of Islamophobia and it is important for us to identify the terrible threat that white supremacism poses to Canada and to Canadians.”
Shaikh told court the first-degree murder charges were laid under a subset of section 231 of the Criminal Code, which reads:
“Irrespective of whether a murder is planned and deliberate on the part of a person, murder is first-degree murder when the death is caused by that person while committing or attempting to commit an indictable offence under this or any other Act of Parliament if the act or omission constituting the offence also constitutes a terrorist activity.”
Leah West, a professor at Carleton University's Norman Paterson School of International Affairs who studies national security law, said the landscape on laying terrorism charges is evolving.
“In the past, typically we haven't seen charges of terrorism where there's already murder charges because it ups the burden on the prosecution without adding anything to the possible sentence,” said West, who has also worked in the past as a national security litigation lawyer in the federal Justice Department.
“I think there's recognition now there are different calculations in what's in the public interest - sometimes that is bringing a terrorism charge to denounce the type of violence motivated by hate and to also signal to victims and the community that this is seen and going to be prosecuted as a terrorist act.”
Yellow London Taxi said last week that one of its drivers called 911 after a man in a black pickup truck drove into a parking lot and asked the cabbie to call police because he “had killed someone.”
The taxi driver said the man had swastikas on his T-shirt and was wearing a military-style helmet and what appeared to be an armoured vest.
Veltman's next court date is scheduled for June 21.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 14, 2021.