A vehicle attack against a Muslim family in southwestern Ontario that left four dead and one seriously injured was an act of terrorism according to prosecutors. Nathaniel Veltman, 20, had been charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder in the June 6 incident in London, Ont., which police have called an act motivated by hate against the Islamic faith.
Salman Afzaal, 46, his 44-year-old wife Madiha Salman, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna and her 74-year-old grandmother, Talat Afzaal were killed while out for an evening walk. A black pickup truck veered onto the sidewalk into the family and fled the scene, according to police.
The couple’s nine-year-old son, Fayez, was seriously injured but is expected to recover.
Veltman was arrested shortly after the hit-and-run, at Cherryhill Village Mall on Oxford Street, about a five-minute drive from the site of the collision. The Free Press has reported that a witness says the man was wearing what appeared to be a bulletproof vest, a military-style helmet, clothing that appeared to have swastikas on it, and that he laughed as he was being arrested.
The accused is facing 4 counts of first-degree murder, one count attempted murder, and terror-related charges.
Definition: A homicide that is both planned and deliberate.
Some homicides are automatically considered first-degree murder:
Sentence: First-degree murder carries an automatic life sentence with no possibility of parole for 25 years.
The terror charges that will be laid against the accused have not been specified but will certainly add to the burden of proof that the crown will have to rest on its shoulders. In Canada, the crown prosecutor must prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt. Proving a single first-degree charge beyond a reasonable doubt is not an easy task and requires a copious amount of resources. In this instance the prosecutors will be tasked with proving four homicides, one attempted, and other terror-related charges.
A 2018 report from Public Safety Canada states that as of that year, 55 individuals had been charged with terrorism-related offenses since they became a specific part of the Criminal Code in 2001. Terror charges have only been applied to a murder case once before. Last year, Toronto man Saad Akhtar was charged with first-degree murder and a terrorism charge in connection with allegations that he killed a woman with a hammer.
Terrorism charges being applied in murder cases certainly add to the burden of proof without affecting the potential sentence of the accused in any reasonable way.
The maximum penalty for murder found to have a terroristic motivation is life in prison with no ability to apply for parole for 25 years –the same as the maximum penalty for first-degree murder.
Veltman, an egg-factory worker and former Fanshawe College student raised in Strathroy but living in downtown London, has virtually no online footprint – Facebook deleted his page after his arrest – but friends, acquaintances, and court records have filled in the gaps on a low-key life that’s now under international scrutiny.
Veltman is one of six kids, including a twin sister, who grew up in a Christian family in Strathroy. He was homeschooled until high school. His parents, Mark Veltman and Alysia Bisset divorced a few years ago. Court records obtained by The Free Press portray a young man prone to angry outbursts. According to the documents filed by his mother, Veltman would become “combative and argumentative” with Bisset and follow her around the house to the point that she would lock herself in another room. Veltman, who is now 20, would eventually seek legal counsel to emancipate himself from his parents in January 2017.
There is little evidence at the moment to link Veltman to hate literature and chat groups which are quite extraordinary when compared to other mass murders who have copious amounts of literature and some even leave their manifesto. Early profiling would suggest a disturbed developmental cycle, anti-social personality disorder. Rather than being a psychopath like most serial killers, mass murderers tend to be paranoid individuals with acute behavioral or social disorders. Like serial killers, mass murderers also display psychopathic tendencies, such as being cruel, manipulative, and uncompassionate. These explanations are by no means an excuse nor a rationale for such a despicable act. It is merely an attempt to understand just how can an individual act in such a manner. Police reported that the family was targeted due to their Muslim background is a testament that Islamophobia is looming in Canadian society in subtle and sometimes blatant ways. Hate crime is reported almost daily in this country and the decision to pursue terror-related charges may be more socially driven than legally to send a strong message to society that those involved in hate will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.