Warning: This story contains distressing details.
As jurors in the murder-terror trial of Nathaniel Veltman deliberate, evidence that wasn’t presented over more than two months of Ontario Superior Court proceedings — meaning they won’t be considered in reaching a verdict — can now be released.
In Canadian law, anything heard during a trial outside the presence of the jury cannot be reported — it’s part of the Criminal Code, which states “no information regarding any portion of the trial at which the jury is not present shall be published in any document or broadcast or transmitted in any way before the jury retires to consider its verdict.”
The jury has begun deliberations in Windsor after hearing and seeing evidence, and listening to testimony from witnesses. They included police investigators, a psychiatrist and a cab driver who called 911 after the accused drove into a London mall parking lot on June 6, 2021 — the same evening members of the Afzaal family were struck by a pickup truck while out for a walk.
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. A nine-year-old boy survived. Veltman has pleaded not guilty to four counts of murder, one count of attempted murder and associated terror counts.
The defence has conceded the accused struck the family. According to the prosecution, the accused was motivated by political, ideological or religious ideas when he drove his truck into the family. They also say he intended to intimidate a segment of the population — Muslim people — which is part of the Criminal Code definition of terrorism.
Now, with the jury in the process of deciding the accused’s fate, CBC News can reveal details we couldn’t report on during the trial.
Here are some highlights:
The day before he killed the Afzaal family, Veltman drove to Toronto wearing body armour and a military helmet. In his mental health assessment, he called it a “scouting” mission. What the jury didn’t hear was that he told police he first considered targeting abortion providers. In his apartment, police found a list of addresses of 12 health-care providers who perform abortions, and on his phone, they found directions to Women’s College Hospital in Toronto. The jury wasn’t allowed to hear that information because it was ruled prejudicial.
The accused had a long history of preoccupation with abortion that started at a homeschooling conference at Redeemer University, a private Christian school in Hamilton, when he was 13 years old. He said he was shown videos of fetuses being destroyed that “triggered an intense rage in him,” the mental health report states. “I wanted to kill the doctors and I asked my mother if it was OK to attack an abortion clinic,” he told the psychiatrist. “I had a thought that one day I would shoot an abortion clinic. This thought stayed in my mind from the age of 13 years.” His mother told him to speak to their pastor.
Dr. Julian Gojer, a forensic psychiatrist, testified as an expert for the defence, but the jury didn’t get to see or hear most of what was in his 105-page report. It stated the accused didn’t meet the requirements for a “not criminally responsible” defence, which is Canada’s version of an insanity plea. The doctor also noted the accused’s desire to plead guilty during multiple meetings. “Preoccupied with his information being released to the press and made public knowledge. He is upset about his plea and wants to simply plead guilty,” Gojer wrote in his notes from a meeting on Aug. 27, 2022. “Wants to dispense with his lawyer. Spent the hour vacillating whether he wants to go through with any assessment as he wants to plead guilty.”
Prosecutors wanted to call their own expert witness, Dr. Barbara Perry, a professor and director of the Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism, to offer the context about the accused’s ideology and to explain the significance of the documents found in his apartment and on his hard drives. The judge ruled her testimony would do more harm than good, and is “not necessary to facilitate an informed verdict.”
Manifesto heavily redacted
There was a publication ban on large parts of the accused’s manifesto, entitled “A White Awakening,” including parts where he spoke about wanting to harm abortion doctors. There were discussions about whether the jury should get a redacted copy of the document or whether parts of it should be read aloud to them by Crown prosecutors. In the end, parts of the manifesto were read out loud in court. The jury also didn’t get to hear any excerpts from “The Great Replacement,” the manifesto of Brenton Tarrant, the man the accused said had inspired him. Tarrant is the Christchurch, New Zealand, terrorist who killed 51 people and wounded 40 when he shot up two mosques in 2019. The Crown wanted his manifesto put into evidence because parts of it were mirrored in what the accused wrote in his own manifesto and in the words he said to a detective who interviewed him. The accused said his attack was “distasteful” and “damaging to the soul,” the exact words used by Tarrant. Both referred to wanting to avenge the killing of a Swedish girl, Ebba Åkerlund. In the end, letting the jury hear even a summary of Tarrant’s manifesto was deemed prejudicial.
Police officers found a copy of Adolf Hitler’s autobiographical manifesto Mein Kampf in the accused’s apartment, with passages highlighted, and 12 quotes from that document in “A White Awakening.” They also found books by other well-known white supremacists, along with the Holy Bible, Book of Mormon and several copies of Creation magazine. The judge ruled they were inadmissible because they were likely to “arouse emotional reactions” from the jurors. “However, the horror of the alleged offence requires the court to be more, rather than less vigilant in protecting the accused’s fair trial rights,” Justice Renee Pomerance wrote in her decision.
‘Shroom evidence disputed
The Crown disputed Gojer’s evidence about the after-affects of magic mushrooms, and in the middle of his testimony, when it became clear he was relying on studies that didn’t directly speak about magic mushrooms, prosecutors asked the judge to consider whether the jury should be told to disregard his testimony and not let it continue. Pomerance ruled there were “frailties” in Gojer’s science. “He has a hypothesis about the lingering effects of magic mushrooms, but it has yet to be proven,” the judge said. But his testimony was well underway, and it would be impossible to remove it from the jury’s mind, so it was allowed to continue with the understanding that there would be a robust cross-examination. Gojer was also not allowed to opine about the accused’s statements to police or whether the evidence shows planning, a key component of first-degree murder.
The defence wanted to play 14 hours of jail cell video footage of the accused lying down, pacing in his cell and sitting, partly because they wanted to call attention to the bare-necessity conditions within the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre and what it would have been like for the accused in jail after his arrest. The accused testified he came up with the story he eventually gave a detective, about wanting to send a message to Muslims, while in that cell. The 14-hour video was played at a rate that was speeded up and ended up taking just over three hours.
At the end of September, a juror was accused of talking to family members about the trial, which is not allowed. The defence wanted each juror questioned about the matter, and there were some arguments about whether that should be done one by one or before the whole jury. In the end, the judge ended up giving instructions to the jury to cut it out — a reading of the “riot act,” the judge said.
While the jury was being chosen, only one potential juror was visibly Muslim. The woman wore a hijab and had sent a note to the judge saying she is prepared to be fair and impartial, and that she hopes her visible Muslim faith does not disqualify her from serving on the jury. Defence and prosecution lawyers said it should not disqualify her, as did the judge, but her answers to the questions the judge asked were not as firm as some of the other potential jurors, and she was not chosen to serve.
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