Warning: Readers may find the contents of this story disturbing.
The day before a Muslim family was struck by a pickup truck in London, Ont., in what prosecutors have described as an act of terror, the accused says he was able to fight off “an urge to hit the gas” in Toronto.
Nathaniel Veltman, 22, is on his third day of testifying in his own defence at a trial that marks the first time Canada’s terrorism laws are being put before a jury in a first-degree murder case.
Veltman has pleaded not guilty to four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder in connection with the crash that killed four members of the Afzaal family and seriously injured a fifth.
After spending Thursday discussing an isolated childhood centred on a Christian fundamentalist disciplinarian mother and Friday going over his ongoing struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression, Monday’s testimony has largely focused on the 40 hours leading up to the June 6, 2021 attack.
In the early morning hours of June 5, 2021, at around 3:45 a.m., he says he consumed roughly three grams of mushrooms. Soon after, he realized he was “about to have a bad trip” so he then tried to watch meditation videos on his phone as a friend had suggested.
“I remember being told in my childhood that meditation wasn’t a Christian thing and I thought that meditation might be demonic and I started panicking,” he said.
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He began to think about all of the violent content he had been obsessively consuming online — including repeatedly watching the New Zealand mosque attack and re-reading the attacker’s manifesto — and “was filled with this horror at what was happening to me” but he worried that once the high was over he would continue down the path he was on.
“I need to kill myself right now before I do something horrible,” he recalled thinking to himself. The panic subsided after a few hours and at around 9 a.m. he opened his computer.
“All of a sudden, all the violent thoughts and all the feelings of ‘I have to get revenge, I have to do something’ came back but in a much stronger force.”
When asked about a note revealed during the Crown’s case which police found in his apartment listing speeds and percentages, Veltman said it was at this point in time that he began to consider how to commit a vehicular attack.
On the evening of June 5, 2021, he says he decided to go to Toronto, telling himself simultaneously that “I just needed to go on a road trip” but also thinking about “committing an attack there in the future.”
He had taken to wearing the bulletproof vest and military-style helmet that he had ordered online as “a comfort” and wore both on his drive to Toronto. While there, he says he drove around randomly as he was not familiar with the city, but when he came across a group of people he believed to be Muslim, he “felt an urge to step on the gas.”
He told the jury he felt as though “all this pain and all this obsession” that he had been struggling with would end if he did so.
“‘They look like they’re just about my age,'” he thought to himself, “I was fighting (the urge) and fighting it and fighting it.”
He told court he turned around and drove back to London.
He returned around 2 a.m. and fell asleep some time after 3 a.m. before waking up at 8:45 a.m. for a shift at the egg processing facility in Strathroy where he worked, he testified.
Veltman says he woke up feeling “very disgusted about the day before.”
“Just the fact that I had driven there (to Toronto) at all” made him feel sick, he says.
He told a co-worker “that I had went to hell last night” and another co-worker asked him if he was OK after hearing him talking to himself in the bathroom, he added.
He finished work at 6:30 p.m. and began his half-hour drive back to London. He tried to distract himself by listening to the radio and he stopped to get a cold coffee at Tim Hortons; he thinks it was an Iced Capp.
At some point on the drive, while stopped at a red light, he saw a group of people he believed to be Muslim, because of “their garb.”
“The same thing that happened before in Toronto came – I felt this lurch,” he recounted.
“This feeling of wanting to gag but also at the same time this urge to step on the gas again.”
He again said he felt that he would “stop feeling the need to fixate on these atrocities perceived to be perpetuated by Muslims” and that the obsessions and the depression would “all go away if I just stepped on the gas.”
His conscience held him back, however, though at the time he chalked it up to cowardice. He told the jury he then drove home fast.
Once home, he again went online, reading or watching videos related to “Muslim grooming gangs.” While grooming gangs are an issue in the U.K., a December 2020 article in the Guardian stated that a Home Office report concluded “there is no credible evidence that any one ethnic group is over-represented in cases of child sexual exploitation” and that “research has found that group-based offenders are most commonly White.”
Veltman also re-read the New Zealand mosque attacker’s manifesto and re-watched the shooting video. He also read about “somebody else from the U.K. who had driven a van into Muslims outside of a mosque,” he testified.
When asked by his lawyer if he could recall any other content he consumed that evening, he admitted it was difficult to remember because “this is just stuff I looked at all the time.”
At this point, he says he took the T-shirt with the cross on it off his wall and put it on and grabbed his debit card and licence from his wallet.
“I was telling myself, ‘I’m just going to buy food,’” he testified, “but I also knew what was possible.”
He got nervous about the possibility of what he would do if he saw any Muslim people on the drive, so he pulled over and put on the vest and helmet, which were in the truck, and he strapped the knife sheath on himself before continuing to drive.
“All the sudden, I came across the victims.”
With that statement, testimony concluded for Monday afternoon. The jury returns Tuesday morning.
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 in the London attack. The couple’s nine-year-old son was also seriously hurt but survived.
The Crown has argued that Veltman was motivated by white nationalist beliefs and had planned his attack for three months before driving his newly purchased Dodge Ram truck directly at the Afzaals.