Warning: This story contains distressing details.
The man accused of deliberately running over a Muslim family in London two years ago was trying to send a loud, “brutal message” when he drove his pickup truck into the Afzaals, a Crown prosecutor told jurors during closing arguments Wednesday in Ontario Superior Court in Windsor.
“That brutal message was meant for the whole world, but there were two particular audiences he was targeting — Muslims and white nationalists,” Fraser Ball said before the judge began explaining the law to the jury in the Nathaniel Veltman trial.
“These were very public murders. That was the point,” Ball said. “You don’t whisper a brutal message — you shout it. By attacking some Muslims, he intended to intimidate all Muslims. He wanted to make all Muslims fear for their loved ones, their children. He wanted to send the most brutal message of intimidation he could manage.
“By killing some Muslims, he wanted to inspire other white nationalists to kill more. It was a passing of the baton. He wanted notoriety. He wanted to graduate from being inspired by others to being an inspiration to others.”
Veltman, 22, has pleaded not guilty to four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder, as well as associated terrorism charges.
That means prosecutors believe he was motivated by political, ideological or religious ideas when he drove his pickup truck into the Afzaal family while they were on an evening walk on June 6, 2021. Prosecutors also say he intended to intimidate a segment of the population — Muslim people — which is part of the Criminal Code definition of terrorism.
Defence, Crown have different theories
The Afzaals were out for an evening walk in suburban London when they were struck by a pickup truck. High school student Yumnah Afzaal, 15, her parents Madiha Salman, an engineer, 44, and Salman Afzaal, 46, a physiotherapist, and family matriarch Talat Afzaal, 74, a teacher and artist, were killed. A nine-year-old boy was seriously injured but survived.
On Tuesday in his closing arguments, defence lawyer Christopher Hicks told the jury his client did not intend to kill the family. He told jurors they should find his client guilty of manslaughter, not first-degree murder, which is planned, deliberate and includes the intention to kill.
The accused testified in his own defence and said he was feeling the after-effects of magic mushrooms in the hours before he drove into the family. A psychiatrist testified the accused had a complex web of mental and developmental disorders that were impacted by the mushrooms.
But prosecutors say the accused began planning his attack in March 2021, when he decided to set aside his suicidal thoughts and turn them outward, Ball said.
“The rage was there, but focused outwards. A determination to kill was there, but he was no longer his own target.”
Veltman wrote his manifesto to make sure that people heard his message, and left two copies of it out in his apartment for police to find, Ball told the jury.
“His political thought, his ideology, his religious beliefs are consistent throughout — coherent and disturbing. He thought that different races and cultures should not mix. That multiculturalism does not work…. That white people need to be warriors, to inspire each other.”
The accused outfitted his truck with a grill bar and researched speeds at which pedestrians are most likely to die when they are struck by a vehicle, the court has heard. He spent up to 12 hours a day online looking at far-right content and was wearing a bulletproof vest and army helmet, as well as a home-made Crusader T-shirt, when he was arrested the evening of the attack.
Judge addresses the jury
After closing arguments ended Wednesday, Justice Renee Pomerance began leading the jury through the law and the facts of the case, and how jurors can apply the law to the facts. She reminded them to “use their collective common sense,” and be dispassionate and unemotional when reaching their verdict.
“Mr. Veltman is not on trial for his beliefs. He is on trial for his actions,” Pomerance said. “His beliefs are at issue only because you must determine if they caused him to act. You must not find him guilty for his beliefs or because you want to take a stand against racism.”
After the judge’s charge is complete, the jury will be sequestered to deliberate with the goal of reaching a verdict. It’s not immediately known when sequestering will happen.