The man accused of running over five members of a Muslim family on June 6, 2021, and killing four of them with his truck, pleaded not guilty to all counts as his 12-week trial started at Ontario Superior Court of Justice in Windsor, Ontario, on Sept. 5.
Nathaniel Veltman’s defence lawyer, Christopher Hicks, entered the not-guilty plea on his client’s behalf just before jury selection began. As the murder charges against Mr. Veltman include counts of terrorism, crown prosecutors must prove the suspect’s actions were planned and deliberate, and also must prove they were motivated by a political, religious, or ideological cause, such as anti-Muslim sentiment.
In 2022, Superior Court Justice Renee Pomerance ruled that the trial could be moved from London to Windsor. While the reasons for the move remain under a publication ban, widespread legal speculation has attributed it to possible arguments presented to the court that Mr. Veltman would not receive a fair trial if the proceedings went ahead in the city where the family was killed.
Mr. Veltman was 20 years old when he was accused of deliberately driving into Salman Afzaal, 46, his wife, Madiha Salman, 44, the couple’s daughter Yumnah, 15, the couple’s son Fayez, 9, and the children’s grandmother, Talat Afzaal, age 74.
All of the family members, who had immigrated to Canada from Pakistan in 2007, died, except Fayez, who was seriously hurt at the time and left an orphan now living with extended family members.
The Crown has alleged that Mr. Veltman, who worked part-time at an egg-packing plant, was motivated by extremist views. He faces charges laid under anti-terrorism laws of four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder. Police allege Mr. Veltman, the oldest of six siblings who grew up in the small town of Strathroy, Ontario, had “hate-related” material on his electronic devices.
The murder trial will likely hear that Mr. Veltman finished a Sunday shift at work, and drove his Ram pickup truck 35 kilometres away to London, Ontario. There, his vehicle jumped the curb at an intersection, allegedly killing four of the five members of the Afzaal family who were out for an evening walk.
Police arrested Mr. Veltman in a parking lot seven kilometres from where the family was killed, and at the time, London Police Service Chief Steve Williams said it was believed to be “an intentional act” that targeted the victims because of their Islamic faith.
Court documents initially sealed were only released in March 2022 after media outlets challenged a publication ban, but less than 10 pages of the 271 pages of the document were allowed to be reported on.
There are apparently witness accounts, information from Mr. Veltman’s family, and a “verbatim transcript” of a statement Mr. Veltman gave to police, but these were subject to a publication ban and may be inadmissible.
What is known is that the police obtained a search warrant for Mr. Veltman’s residence, looking for three knives, including a machete, an airsoft gun, and an axe.