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Trial Begins for Man Accused of Killing Muslim Family in Act of "Terrorism" Motivated by White Nationalism. High-Stakes Trial of Nathaniel Veltman, Accused of Murder, May Influence Canada's Approach to Combating Far-Right Extremism.
Nathaniel Veltman, 22, has pleaded not guilty to murder and attempted murder charges for allegedly driving his truck into a Muslim family in London, Ontario in June 2021, killing four relatives. Prosecutors opened his trial by alleging Veltman committed an act of terrorism motivated by white nationalist beliefs.
The high-profile trial could set a precedent in Canada for prosecuting crimes linked to far-right extremism under anti-terrorism laws. It also marks a test of the country's efforts to curb rising Islamophobia.
- On June 6, 2021, Veltman allegedly drove his truck onto the sidewalk, striking three generations of the Afzaal family out for a walk after dinner.
- Killed were 46-year-old Salman Afzaal, his wife Madiha, 44, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna, and Salman's mother Talat, 74. The couple's 9-year-old son survived.
- Veltman faces four first-degree murder charges, one attempted murder charge, and terrorism charges. He has pleaded not guilty.
- Prosecutors allege Veltman planned the attack for months and targeted the family for being Muslim. They say he praised the Christchurch mosque shootings and identified as a white nationalist.
- The trial was moved 130 miles from London to Windsor, Ontario. It's expected to last 8 weeks.
Prosecution Details Veltman's Alleged Plan to Commit Terrorism
In opening statements on November 1, 2022, lead prosecutor Sarah Shaikh accused Veltman of hatching a calculated plot to murder Muslims and spread terror.
Shaikh alleged Veltman purchased the Dodge Ram truck used in the attack two weeks prior. On June 6, 2021, he allegedly set out looking for Muslim victims to kill, inspired by the 2019 New Zealand mosque shooting by a white supremacist.
That evening, Veltman spotted the Afzaal family walking on the sidewalk wearing hijabs and allegedly drove his truck up onto the curb, accelerating into them at full speed.
Shaikh said Veltman wore body armor and had bladed weapons in the vehicle. After the crash, he called a taxi driver at a nearby mall to turn himself in, confessing "It's me, I did it."
Per the prosecution, Veltman told police he deliberately targeted the Afzaals for being Muslim. He also allegedly confessed the act was "100% terrorism" and that he was politically motivated by white nationalist beliefs.
A search of Veltman's home revealed a manifesto titled "White Awakening" expressing violent extremism. Two versions were found on his computer.
The brazen daytime attack while the family was on an evening walk sent shockwaves across Canada. It also added urgency to addressing rising Islamphobia in the country.
Veltman Pleads Not Guilty, Trial Moved to Windsor
Despite his alleged confession, Veltman has pleaded not guilty to all charges. The court has imposed a publication ban on the reasons for moving the trial 90 miles east from London to Windsor, Ontario.
By changing venue, the court aims to ensure an impartial jury unaffected by the mass attention on the local attack. However, the move has also disrupted supporters of the Afzaal family hoping to attend the trial.
The proceedings are expected to last 8 weeks as prosecutors lay out details of the killings and Veltman's motives. Both sides agreed to a statement of facts to shorten the anticipated three-month trial.
Terrorism Charges Invoke Canada's Anti-Terrorism Act
While Veltman faces straightforward murder and attempted murder charges, the additional terrorism charges have key legal significance.
Prosecutors invoked provisions in Canada's Anti-Terrorism Act passed after 9/11 requiring that crimes be motivated by ideological, political or religious motives. This is intended to distinguish terrorism from regular criminal acts.
The law has historically been used against Islamist terror groups. Veltman's trial marks one of the first major uses of the terrorism statutes against crimes linked to far-right extremism.
A conviction would set a precedent allowing terrorism charges against white nationalists and Neo-Nazis. It would also bolster efforts to prosecute extremism more vigorously after criticism of a lax approach.
Spotlight on Canada's Struggle Against Rising Islamophobia
The shocking murders prompted soul-searching in Canada about why hostility toward Muslims seems to have grown.
While known for multiculturalism and tolerance, Islamophobic incidents including harassment and attacks on Muslim women wearing hijabs have surged in recent years. Far-right nationalist groups have also become more vocal and organized.
The tragedy underscored the human costs of allowing anti-Muslim hatred to take root at the political margins or go unchallenged in public discourse.
Balancing free speech concerns with efforts to counter extremism presents challenges for Western democracies like Canada. But the trial highlights the urgent need to tackle radicalization.
The Background on Canada's Anti-Terrorism Law and Far-Right Extremism
Canada passed the Anti-Terrorism Act in 2001 in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in the U.S. It was intended to give law enforcement more tools to disrupt and punish terrorist activities.
Some provisions in the law have proven controversial, like easing constraints on surveillance and detention without charges. Civil liberties groups have pushed back against the enhanced powers granted to security agencies.
But the law also for the first time explicitly defined terrorist acts and organizations. This was intended to support prosecuting crimes clearly linked to extremist ideologies rather than ordinary criminal motivations.
To date, most charges under the Anti-Terrorism Act have targeted Islamist groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS sympathizers. Far-right extremism has mainly been addressed through lower level charges.
Critics have argued this amounts to a double standard that takes the threat of white nationalist violence less seriously. They say the origins of U.S. and European anti-terrorism laws in the "War on Terror" contributed to this blind spot.
Recent high-profile attacks have brought more urgency to confronting far-right radicalization in Western democracies:
- The Christchurch mosque shootings that killed 51 in New Zealand in March 2019
- The Pittsburgh synagogue shooting that killed 11 in October 2018
- The Charleston church shooting that killed 9 black parishioners in June 2015
- The 2011 Norway attacks by far-right extremist Anders Brevik that killed 77
In Canada specifically, the Quebec City mosque shooting that killed 6 worshippers in January 2017 underscored the growing threat.
Veltman's trial will test Canada's resolve to treat all ideological extremism equally under its anti-terrorism laws.
The Victims: A Model Immigrant Family With Big Dreams
The Afzaal family embodied the immigrant success story and the boundless dreams that make diverse democracies thrive. Their loss left a gaping hole in London’s close-knit Pakistani community.
Salman and Madiha had arrived in Canada 14 years prior in search of greater freedom and opportunity. Salman had earned his doctorate and worked as a physiotherapist. Madiha had an accounting degree.
After years of hard work, they were settling into a comfortable middle-class life with their two children.
Salman's mother Talat was visiting from Pakistan, helping care for her grandkids. She had eagerly awaited the trip to see the family's new home purchased just a month before the attack.
Yumna, 15, was an honor roll student who had recently celebrated her birthday. The family's son, Fayez, was a spirited 9-year-old who loved playing with his older sister.
Madiha and Salman were philanthropists who sponsored Syrian refugees and gave back to local charities. They embodied the Canadian spirit of openness, volunteerism and humanism.
The lives they built for themselves and their children in Canada were cut short by a senseless act of violence fueled by the same xenophobia they had fled.
But their legacy will live on as an inspiration to keep fighting prejudice and protecting human dignity. They represent the diverse threads forming the Canadian cultural mosaic that must be celebrated, not extinguished by radical hatred.
The trial's outcome carries high stakes not just for the pursuit of justice, but for Canada's vision of itself as an inclusive, multicultural society.
Summarized from the original article by - TheGuardian.com
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