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Sentencing hearing resumes for man found guilty in London attack on Muslim family

A sentencing hearing is set to resume today for a man who killed four members of a Muslim family in London, Ont.

Nathaniel Veltman, 23, was found guilty in November of four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder for hitting the Afzaal family with his truck while they were out for a walk on June 6, 2021.

Justice Renee Pomerance, who oversaw the trial, is expected to hear arguments today from the Crown and Veltman’s defence on whether his attack amounted to an act of terrorism.

Veltman’s trial was the first where Canada’s terrorism laws were put before a jury in a first-degree murder trial.

Pomerance had instructed the jury that they could convict Veltman of first-degree murder if they unanimously agreed prosecutors had established he intended to kill the victims, and planned and deliberated his attack. She also told jurors they could reach that same verdict if they found that the killings were terrorist activity.

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The terror component wasn’t a separate charge, and juries don’t explain how they reach their verdict, so it’s unclear what role – if any – the terror allegations played in their decision.

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Pomerance may make findings on that issue as part of the sentencing process.

Forty-six-year-old Salman Afzaal; his 44-year-old wife, Madiha Salman; their 15-year-old daughter, Yumna; and her 74-year-old grandmother, Talat Afzaal, were killed in the attack, while the couple’s nine-year-old son was seriously hurt but survived.

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The boy who survived the attack addressed a sentencing hearing earlier this month in a statement that brought many in court to tears.

The boy, whose name has been withheld to protect his privacy, said he missed his mother’s food, going to prayers at the mosque with his father and making art with his grandmother. He also said he would love to fight with his sister “one last time.”

Also at the earlier sentencing hearing, which heard many emotional victim impact statements, a relative of the family recalled picking up clothes from her grand-niece’s bedroom floor a day after the murders and “desperately seeking solace” in her scent for the final time. Hina Islam told the sentencing hearing that she lost her sense of safety after the attack.

Prosecutors had argued at Veltman’s trial that the attack was an act of terrorism by a self-professed white nationalist while defence lawyers argued Veltman didn’t have criminal intent to kill the victims and didn’t deliberate and plan the attack.

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During the trial, Veltman testified that he was influenced by the writings of a gunman who committed the 2019 mass killings of 51 Muslim worshippers at two mosques in New Zealand.

He also said he had been considering using his pickup truck, which he bought a month earlier, to carry out an attack and looked up information online about what happens when pedestrians get struck by cars at various speeds.

He told the jury that he felt an “urge” to hit the Afzaal family after seeing them walking on a sidewalk, adding that he knew they were Muslims from the clothes they were wearing and he noticed that the man in the group had a beard.

Jurors had also seen video of Veltman telling a detective that his attack had been motivated by white nationalist beliefs. Court also heard that he wrote a manifesto in the weeks before the attack, describing himself as a white nationalist and peddling unfounded conspiracy theories about Muslims.

Veltman’s trial was heard in Windsor, Ont., but the sentencing proceedings, including victim impact statements, are taking place in London.

&© 2024 The Canadian Press

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