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London, Ont. attacker Nathaniel Veltman guilty of all charges; judge to decide if killer is a terrorist

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A Windsor jury has returned five guilty verdicts to Nathaniel Veltman for the June 2021 attack on a London, Ont. Muslim family.

Whether or not it’s a terrorist act is now in the hands of the judge, Justice Renee Pomerance.
 

THE DELIBERATIONS

At the time of her charge to the jury, Justice Pomerance told the jurors there were two paths to a first-degree murder conviction:

  • Veltman’s actions were planned and deliberate
  • Or they were an act of terrorism
     

THE VERDICTS

The jury of 12 people deliberated for approximately six hours before returning with their decision.

With shaking hands, the jury foreperson – a woman – delivered five guilty verdicts to Veltman early Thursday afternoon inside a Windsor courtroom.

Veltman was convicted of four counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of Talat Afzaal, her son Salman, his wife Madiha, and their teenage daughter Yumnah.

Veltman was also convicted of attempted murder for the injuries suffered by their son who was nine years old at the time.

(Source: Submitted)

THE REACTION

Members of the Afzaal family, as well as people from the Muslim communities from both Windsor and London, packed the courtroom for Thursday afternoon’s verdict.

There was an audible gasp of emotion from many of them, as each guilty verdict was read out.

“While this verdict does not bring back our loved ones, it is a recognition by the justice system that the perpetrator of these heinous crimes is indeed a murderer,” Tabinda Bukhari, Madiha Salman’s mother, said outside the courthouse after the verdicts. “He intended to instill fear and terror into our hearts. However, this wasn’t just a crime against the Muslim community but rather an attack against the safety and security of all Canadians.”

Veltman, 22, didn’t make eye contact with the jury and he did not show any emotion as the verdicts were delivered.

“[Veltman was] shocked because he knows he’s looking at 25 years in jail, without hope of parole, that’s a shock to him and he’s absorbing that,” said defence lawyer Christopher Hicks.

In a media scrum outside the courthouse, Hicks noted the historic nature of the case.

“It’s a first jury trial on terrorism,” he said while adding they will never know if the jurors felt Veltman's actions were planned and deliberate or a terrorist act.

“We don’t know and we can’t ask them,” Hicks told the media. “There are very live issues that perhaps should be resolved by an appellate tribunal.”

"Hate and Islamophobia have no place in Canadian society,” federal prosecutor Sarah Shaikh told CTV News in a written statement. “The jury's verdict reflects the overwhelming evidence that led them to find Veltman guilty of the horrific crimes he committed on June 6 2021.”

A single bouquet of flowers rests against the 'Our London Family' memorial at the intersection of Hyde Park Road and South Carriage Road in London, Ont. on Nov. 16, 2023. (Gerry Dewan/CTV News London)

THE SENTENCING

“What he has now is 25 years without parole eligibility, so any sentence he gets on the attempted murder will run concurrent to [it],” said Hicks.

It’s at that point the lawyers will argue about the terrorism issue, according to Hicks.

He and co-counsel Peter Ketcheson expect the crown will file a ‘Gardiner application’ to argue that Veltmans actions were terrorism.

“It’s an attempt, we believe, by the Crown to increase the sentence for the attempted murder,” said Hicks.

Even if Veltman's actions are deemed terrorism, Hicks said it doesn’t change his client’s sentence; 25 years in prison before Veltman can apply for parole.

“All evidence that was heard, any findings of facts that were made, including in relation to terrorism, will make its way before the parole board and it will be one factor they will consider in their analysis,” said Ketcheson.

He would not say if a terrorist designation would keep Veltman behind bars indefinitely.

“That’s a decision for the parole board down the road, and we don’t know how much weight will be put on each factor that’s found at trial,” he said.

The judge will also hear from the Afzaal family during the sentencing hearing. They will now be given an opportunity to write victim impact statements. Each will also be given the choice of reading it themselves in open court or having a Crown attorney read it aloud for them.

A date for a sentencing hearing will be held on Dec. 1 virtually through a Windsor courtroom.

The actual sentencing hearing – likely in 2024 – will require two days and will be held in person in London, as per the family’s’ request.

The judge will likely reserve judgment on Veltman's ultimate sentence for another date to be determined.

THE FUTURE

“While the trial is now over, the evidence that came out of this trial show us that there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure the next radicalized young man is not out there,” said Imam Abd Alfatah Twakkal of the London Muslim Mosque outside Windsor’s superior courthouse.

He told the media the verdict brings their community one step closer to processing all of the emotions surrounding the tragedy.

“Our community wanted accountability and the Canadian justice system delivered,” said the Imam. “It validates the notion that Muslims in Canada are valued by the justice system.”

The National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) held a news conference, back on Sept. 5 on the steps of the Windsor courthouse for the first day of jury selection.

Their members were there Thursday to hear the verdicts.

“I’m not going to speak on the conviction of the London terror attacker, his name, like the names of all those who do disgusting acts of terror, will end up on the trash pile of history,” said Omar Khamissa, NCCM’s director of community engagement. ”His name will be forgotten, their names (the Afzaals) will be our strength.”

“We hope that the jury’s verdict can bring some measure of closure to the Afzaal family and the wider Muslim community,” prosecutor Sarah Shaikh said.

“The enduring grief, trauma, and the irreplaceable void left by the loss of multiple generations has pierced us profoundly,” Bukhari said.

The Afzaal family thanked the communities in both London and Windsor for their support, noting the verdicts bring “some solace.”

“We have not been grieving alone and we are not healing alone,” concluded Bukhari. “We pray that we can move forward to build a decent and just society. We remember. We mourn. We heal.” 

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