Warning: Readers may find the contents of this story disturbing.
In wrapping up its questioning of the accused in the London, Ont., attack trial, the defence has tried to paint a picture of a troubled man who was acting on impulse and not thinking clearly when he stepped on the gas in his pickup truck and drove directly at a Muslim family.
Under cross-examination, however, the Crown appears to be trying to focus in on what exactly Nathaniel Veltman believed at the time of the attack and when those beliefs were formed.
The 22-year-old has pleaded not guilty to four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder in connection with the June 6, 2021, attack that left four members of the Afzaal family dead and a fifth, a nine-year-old boy, seriously injured.
The case marks the first time Canada’s terrorism laws are being put before a jury in a first-degree murder trial. The Crown has argued that Veltman was motivated by white nationalist beliefs and had planned his attack for three months.
Tuesday’s testimony continued where Monday’s left off, with Veltman recounting how he was driving around randomly, telling himself he was going to get food but knowing what was “possible,” considering the urges he had felt to strike people he believed to be Muslim in Toronto the day before and in London on his way home from work.
He came across the victims on the opposite side of the road while driving northbound on Hyde Park Road, he testified, and “the urge came over me to drive into them.” He stopped the vehicle but then conducted a U-turn once he reached the end of the median.
“Were you thinking clearly, Mr. Veltman?” defence lawyer Christopher Hicks asked.
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“My mind was a mess,” Veltman answered.
He expanded, stating that before June 5 he felt that he was “an enlightened individual that had access to truths that others didn’t know” but he had started wondering if there was something wrong with his mind and he felt that he had to “end this right now.”
“Why did you feel, as you said, that you had to ‘end this right now?’” Hicks asked.
“This obsession about this content on the internet had gone on so long. This fixation, talking points on Muslim grooming gangs … underreported atrocities not reported in the mainstream media,” he went on, saying he felt that if he gave in to the urges it would “go away.”
“What would go away, Mr. Veltman?”
“If I act out on (the obsessions), then I’ll be free.”
He said he looked at the victims and stepped on the gas, driving “directly at them.”
“I know that a split second before it happened, I tried to change my mind and turn the other way but it was too late,” he told the jury.
“Did you intend to kill?” Hicks asked.
Veltman said he just “felt the urge” to crash into them.
“Was what you did a result of a plan you had?”
Veltman responded that it was not the result of a plan but “obsessive thoughts.”
After hitting the family, he said he felt “this massive shock and horror” and he sped off, not wanting to see what he had done.
He recounted finding the taxi driver, who previously took the stand as a witness for the Crown, and asking him to call police.
He told the jury that while in the Cherryhill Mall parking lot with the taxi driver he “saw more Muslims on the road” and thought about attacking them as well but he managed to stop himself. He also considered running at police, he said.
When officers arrived, he said he had a “very demented, short-lived infatuation” where he felt “glad that it was over.”
“I felt like I was done and I didn’t have to worry about obsessing over this stuff on the internet.”
He said he was initially arrested for dangerous driving, then attempted murder, and then finally for first-degree murder.
“I was starting to realize this is serious. And I was starting to doubt if it was actually justifiable.”
Under defence questioning, he walked through how he was taken to a dry cell at London Police Headquarters which he described as cold. He discussed the little amount of sleep that he had had since Saturday and that he also had not had much food. By the time of his first interview with Det. Micah Bourdeau, which was previously played for the jury as part of the Crown’s case, he had to urinate badly and was feeling like the situation was “hopeless.”
“When he told me it was four counts of murder, I thought, ‘Oh my God, the kid probably died,’ so not only did I have to justify the deaths of four people, I had to justify the death of a child as well,’” he said.
“All these things I kept inside I started spewing out to him, … it’s all such nonsense. I recognize it’s not justifiable.”
During the first interview with Bourdeau, he said he was in “hyper-mode,” which he described as feeling agitated, panicked and detached. During the second interview, however, he had started to “come back to reality.”
At some point on June 7, he was taken to the Elgin Middlesex Detention Centre where he said he was “mistreated because of what the allegations were.” He said he was “on suicide watch” and “put in solitary.” He told the court that he went through “a very painful transformation having to accept, realize what I had done.”
Hicks then asked him if he is currently on any medications, to which he stated he is on Remeron for depression and Zoloft for OCD. He said the Zoloft helps to “stop repetitive thinking” but that a side effect is that it “numbs my emotions a bit.”
Hicks’ final question before the lunch break was to ask whether Veltman is emotional about what happened on June 6, 2021. Veltman answered, “yes.”
When proceedings resumed, Hicks wrapped up his questioning of Veltman by discussing the document he wrote titled “A White Awakening.”
Veltman admitted he wrote it but, in responding to Hicks’s questions, said he was not associated with any group and had no plans to distribute the document.
Hicks then briefly resumed discussion of the impact of the mushrooms Veltman had taken on June 5. Veltman said a dreamlike state lasted through the day on June 5 until the early morning hours of June 7.
The Crown then began its cross-examination.
Lawyer Jennifer Moser began by asking if Veltman agreed that “your actions severely injured a nine-year-old boy, that you left that nine-year-old boy an orphan” and that “you drove your truck into all five members of the Afzaal family on June 6, 2021.”
Veltman said he did.
Moser focused much of her initial questioning on the document, “A White Awakening,” which the Crown had previously characterized as a “manifesto.” She noted the document was started on May 4, 2021 and the last update was on June 1, 2021.
She posed questions to Veltman about the content of the document and his beliefs at the time.
Veltman admitted that he believed the Great Replacement conspiracy theory, which he said suggests that the fact that the birth rate in western countries is below the replacement rate at the same time those countries are experiencing “mass immigration” is “part of a conspiracy to replace white people.”
Moser later noted that Veltman identified as a “white nationalist,” which he admitted he did.
She noted that in his testimony previously under his defence lawyer, he suggested that there was a point at which his suicidal ideation was “pushed outwards onto Muslims.” Veltman took issue with her wording but said that he recalled “my anger being directed outwards” once he finally began consuming the content that he had previously been avoiding.
“And by that, you meant you were now thinking of doing violence and harm to other people and not yourself, right?” Moser asked.
Veltman did not agree, saying only that he felt he had to do “something” but wasn’t sure what.
Then Moser brought up the New Zealand mosque attacker’s manifesto and video, which previous testimony showed was repeatedly opened in the months leading up to June 6, 2021.
“So on February 15, this is abhorrent material,” Moser said, referencing Veltman’s description of how he first felt watching the video before he became desensitized to it.
“Yet you downloaded it and you saved it onto your Kingston USB…. I mean, the very next day you watched the shooting video again.”
Veltman said that was his pattern for everything he watched and read online, that he would do so “over and over.”
Moser noted that he had testified that March of 2021 was when he decided to no longer stop himself from consuming such content. However, she said, he watched the video on Feb. 15, 16, 17 and 21.
He again said he would watch everything over and over.
Moser suggested to Veltman that in order to get into a “head space” to kill, you’d have to mentally make your target an “enemy.” She again referenced the document Veltman wrote, specifically mentioning the language he used in it to describe Muslim people.
“That is dehumanizing, yes,” Veltman agreed.
“And you finished writing that before your mushroom trip. You finished writing that on June 1, 2021, didn’t you?” Moser said.
Cross-examination also revealed that the amount of mushrooms he consumed on June 5, 2021 was actually less than he had consumed in April of 2020. He also said that his journey toward the extreme content he would eventually fixate on began with libertarian content, mainstream conservative content, then alt-right content and then more “fringe” content.
At that point, Moser suggested her line of questioning was to turn to other matters and court broke for the day. Proceedings resume Wednesday at 10 a.m.