Canada Truck attack: Trial begins for man accused of killing Muslim family

A man accused of murdering a Muslim family in a hate-fuelled attack has gone on trial in Windsor, Ontario.

Nathaniel Veltman, 22, faces four counts of terrorism-motivated first degree murder, and one attempted murder charge.

He is accused of deliberately running over the Afzaal family with his truck while they were out on an evening walk in London, Ontario in 2021.

Mr Veltman has pleaded not guilty.

His fate will be decided by a 14-member jury, which began to hear opening arguments in court on Monday.

The case marks the first time a jury in Canada will hear arguments on terrorism related to white supremacy.

Salman Afzaal, 46, and his wife Madiha Salman, 44, were killed in the attack – along with their daughter Yumna Afzaal, 15, and Mr Afzaal’s mother Talat Afzaal, 74.

The couple’s nine-year-old son was seriously hurt but survived.

Prosecutors have argued that Mr Veltman, who was 20 at the time of his arrest, was motivated by hate and white nationalist ideologies when he allegedly jumped the curb with his truck and struck the Afzaal family, who were Pakistani Muslims.

The trial will be watched closely by law experts in Canada to see if the country’s terrorism charges, enacted in the wake of the 11 September attacks in New York City, could be applied to someone who allegedly targeted a family because they are Muslim.

“If the Crown succeeds here, we would have a much more expansive and inclusive definition of terrorism that could in principle be applied to many other offences,” Andrew Botterell, a law professor at the University of Western Ontario, told the BBC.

But Prof Botterell added that even if the terrorism charge is not successfully argued, the jury could still find the accused guilty of first degree murder.

A vigil is held in London, Ontario for the Afzaal family

Mr Veltman was arrested shortly after the attack on 6 June 2021 in a parking lot close to London’s oldest mosque, where the Afzaal family were devoted members.

The suspect was wearing what appeared to be body armour and a helmet, police said.

The attack sent waves of grief and fear across Canada, as London’s tight-knit Muslim community mourned the loss of a beloved family.

It also spurred calls for measures to combat Islamophobia in the country.

According to the London Free Press, federal prosecutor Sarah Shaikh argued on Monday that evidence will show Mr Veltman’s alleged actions were deliberate.

She said the accused targeted the Afzaal family because they were wearing traditional Pakistani clothing.

Ms Shaikh added that he had left behind a manifesto detailing his views, and that he was motivated partly by the Christchurch, New Zealand mosque shootings in March 2019, where 51 people were killed.

Uthman Quick, a spokesperson for the National Council of Canadian Muslims, was present at the courtroom, and said that revisiting the details of the case has been “traumatising”.

“It’s two years now since this actually occurred, and it’s a bit of reopening of wounds,” he told the BBC.

But he added the trial is important as it marks the first time in Canada where Islamophobic violence has been categorised as terrorism.

This, he said, sends a message that “terrorism charges are equally assessed, no matter the ideology or ethnicity of the attacker.”

Superior Court Justice Renee Pomerance will be overseeing the case. She moved the trial from London to Windsor earlier this year for reasons covered by a publication ban.

On Monday, Judge Pomerance said she expects the trial to last around eight weeks.

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