A Canadian man, Nathaniel Veltman, has been convicted of murder after he ran over and killed four members of the Afzaal family with his car in London, Ontario, but the jury did not specify if he was motivated by terrorism.
According to media reports, the case marked the first time Canada’s terrorism laws were argued before a jury in a first-degree murder trial, with a 12-person jury returning the verdict after less than six hours of deliberation which are secret under Canadian law.
The Pakistani-Canadian Muslim family that was killed on June 6, 2021, included Salman Afzaal, 46, his wife Madiha Salman, 44, their daughter Yumna Afzaal, 15, and Afzaal’s mother Talat Afzaal, 74.
However, the couple’s nine-year-old son was seriously injured but survived.
A guilty verdict was delivered in a packed courtroom at Windsor’s Superior Courthouse, causing emotional reactions from spectators, including members of London’s Muslim community and friends of the Afzaals.
The Afzaal family’s relatives told reporters outside the courtroom that while the verdict didn’t bring their family back, it gave them solace. They added that the trial was a reminder that work is still needed to address hatred in all forms in Canada.
“This wasn’t just a crime against the Muslim community, but rather, an attack against the safety and security of all Canadians,” said Tabinda Bukhari on behalf of the family.
The National Council of Muslims (NCCM) said they were “relieved that justice has been served”.
“The attack that happened over two years ago changed Canadian Muslims’ relationship with their country,” said NCCM head Omar Khamissa.
“For the first time for many of us, we felt unsafe and targeted just for walking down the street.”
Both the prosecution and the defence agreed that he was driving that day but Veltman had pleaded not guilty, claiming to be mentally ill.
The jury heard evidence of Veltman’s hatred for Muslims and his obsessive consumption of far-right and anti-Muslim content online during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as a document found by police after his arrest.
During his trial, Veltman claimed he was influenced by a strict Christian upbringing and had an obsessive-compulsive disorder. He admitted to feeling detached from reality after taking magic mushrooms before running over the family.
He said he resisted the idea of running over Muslims twice before, but later, while out for food, he couldn’t stop the “urge” when he spotted the family out for a stroll.
Veltman will be sentenced at a later date. However, the punishment for first-degree murder is life in prison with no parole for 25 years under Canadian law.