Warning: Readers may find the contents of this story disturbing.
The accused in the London, Ont., vehicle attack that left four members of a Muslim family dead and a young boy seriously injured has testified he looked up information on pedestrian-vehicle crashes the day before he struck the Afzaal family.
He also testified the grandmother, whose death he said had a devastating impact, was a great-grandmother in palliative care. Further, he admitted to the court that he was able to maintain full-time hours up until his arrest.
The Crown continued its cross-examination of Nathaniel Veltman on Wednesday morning, with lawyer Jennifer Moser asking questions aimed at clarifying his beliefs and actions leading up to the attack.
The 22-year-old has pleaded not guilty to four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder. The case marks the first time Canada’s terrorism laws are being put before a jury in a first-degree murder trial.
Proceedings began Wednesday with Moser digging in to the circumstances surrounding the purchase of his truck. Veltman said he had tried to get another truck from South West Auto but was told he didn’t qualify for a loan. They called him later on to tell him that they had a less expensive truck he would be approved for, and he bought it on May 11, 2021. The truck was over $20,000 and with an interest rate on the loan of over 12 per cent, the total cost was closer to $36,000.
“This was a lot of money for you, Mr. Veltman,” Moser noted.
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“It was the biggest purchase I had made,” Veltman agreed.
Under questioning, Veltman said he was making about $1,300 to $1,600 biweekly at an hourly rate of about $18 or $19. Moser also noted that Veltman bought the bulletproof vest and helmet separately, as he had to save up.
“I’m going to put to you, sir, that you knew you were going to use this truck in a terrorist attack,” Moser said, adding that that’s why he signed for a loan to finance the purchase. Veltman disagreed.
Veltman’s claims of paranoia over being put on government watchlists were raised, with Moser noting that to buy the bulletproof vest, he provided photos of his passport and driver’s licence. If he was so paranoid about watchlists, she mused, then sending those photos over the internet would have been a big step for him.
Veltman responded, “When I had to, I had to.” He added that he would try to hide his personal information whenever he was able to. However, Moser said he didn’t “have” to have a bulletproof vest.
“In your mind, purchasing body armour… you were worried that this action might put you on the federal radar,” she said.
“I do remember thinking that,” Veltman agreed.
“And yet it was worth it to you, to get those items.”
Veltman eventually relented: “I wasn’t that paranoid that I was not going to get something that I wanted to get.”
Next, Moser raised his earlier testimony under questioning from his defence lawyer Christopher Hicks, when he mentioned his emotional devastation over the loss of his grandmother, who he considered to be a substitute mother figure. Moser clarified that the woman was actually a great-grandmother, who was in palliative care and 101 years old at the time of her death.
“Even though I knew that she was going to go for a while, it still felt like I was losing my grip on myself,” Veltman told court.
Then, Moser noted that Veltman responded to his grief by using psychedelic mushrooms, which he had not consumed since an April 2020 trip, which he had described as terrifying.
“You thought the best way to escape this grief was to take a substance that the last time you took, had you writhing on the floor in pain for hours?” she asked.
“Grief is only one factor,” Veltman said, adding that while the last time he tripped on mushrooms was terrifying in the beginning, that he felt he was already living in a hell of sorts and he had to escape.
“I’m going to suggest to you, sir, that you were not in such mental torment at the time,” Moser began, adding that while he may have been sad his great-grandmother died, she suggested he was ready to act and knew he would soon go out to kill Muslims.
She further suggested the death marked the passing of someone who would have been disappointed in the actions he was going to take. Veltman disagreed.
Moser raised that he had already written his manifesto, “A White Awakening,” which was last edited on June 1 and opened on June 2 and 6 but not edited.
Veltman took issue with describing it as a manifesto, noting that the original document title “idk” was “I don’t know,” reflecting that he didn’t know what he was documenting.
Following the mushroom trip, Moser noted that Veltman continued his research, “the same research you had been doing for months,” she said. It was at this time, the morning of June 5, that he wrote the strange note with speeds and percentages listed on it, which she said was meant to convey the likelihood of a pedestrian dying if struck at that speed.
Veltman admitted, “I know I went on some website and looked up what happens when pedestrian vehicle accidents (occur).” He described himself as being in a “bizarre state of feeling unhinged.”
“At the end of it you wrote ‘+++ even more’,” Moser said. “This was you, clearly planning on killing pedestrians with your vehicle.”
Veltman disagreed, saying he wasn’t sure if he was going to do it, if it was going to be injuring or killing, but that he was “certainly in danger mode where I was actively researching” the impacts of vehicle crashes on pedestrians.
“Planning mode, Mr. Veltman,” Moser supplied.
“I don’t know if I’d call it planning.”
Moser mentioned his trip to Toronto, when he first testified that he felt the urge to hit the gas after seeing a group of people he believed to be Muslim. Moser suggested that he didn’t step on the gas at that time because there were no children in that group, a suggestion that sparked a visceral reaction from Veltman, who immediately said he disagreed.
“You said you were sickened and afraid by what you had almost done… yet when you arrived home, you didn’t call anyone for help,” said Moser. Veltman responded that he never asked anyone for help, to which Moser answered that he had seen a counsellor previously. She suggested he didn’t seek help because he wanted to follow through on his plan. Again, Veltman disagreed.
Then, Moser suggested that he made the document “A White Awakening” easily accessible, that he wanted to make sure police would find it.
“That’s ridiculous,” Veltman replied, “I did not stage the apartment.”
Veltman said if he wanted people to read it, he would have shared it.
The jury then broke for morning recess before returning to Moser moving to the moments leading up to the crash itself.
She said at this point, Veltman had twice felt the urge to hit the gas when noticing a group of people he believed to be Muslim – this had happened in Toronto the day prior and on his drive home from work that day. Despite this, she said that he chose to get into his truck, ostensibly to purchase food, even though he was within walking distance of several restaurants and fast food joints.
“Because of the stuff I was looking at online, I hated wearing masks… that’s another reason why I hated being in public,” he said, explaining that that was among the reasons he preferred drive-throughs.
Veltman got into his truck, left the parking garage below his building and stopped on Talbot Street to “gear up,” she said. She said when he saw the Afzaal family “all of your pent up rage had now found its mark.”
“I don’t know if the term is pent up rage or obsession, I’m not sure how to describe it,” Veltman responded.
“This target included a nine-year-old boy,” said Moser. Veltman disagreed. Moser then highlighted in previous testimony, he told the jury that before conducting the U-turn on Hyde Park Road, he thought to himself, “collateral damage.” He agreed.
Moser then suggested that Veltman chose the Afzaal family because of the older women – the only two wearing traditional Pakistani clothes.
“The man was wearing a striped t-shirt and black pants, not traditional clothing at all. Was it the colour of his skin that attracted you to him?”
Veltman says no, it was the beard, to which Moser noted that beards are not specific to Muslims. Veltman responded simply that he knew they were Muslim and so he felt the urge.
Under questioning from his defence lawyer earlier in the week, Veltman suggested that he tried to turn away just before impact but it was too late. But Veltman was an experienced driver, Moser said, having had his licence for four years and driving to and from work regularly.
Yet the evidence shows he did not touch the brake at all before hitting the family. Input on the steering wheel showed a minor turn to the left, which she suggested was in order to hit the entire family.
“No, that was not why I turned to the left,” Veltman said.
“You knew that crashing your large pickup truck that had that big grill guard, 200-pound grill guard on it, would likely end at least some of their lives,” she said.
“I don’t recall thinking any of those things,” Veltman responded.
“You chose to do this act, sir.”
Veltman agreed, “I am the one who chose to drive into them.”
The Crown lawyer added that Veltman sped off, running red lights and driving at a high rate of speed, but still managing not to hit any other cars, people or objects.
Then, questioning turned to the 911 call, where Veltman can be heard saying that he “did it on purpose.”
“This is what you are saying (that) you said in a state of horror, shock and being sickened. Is that what you’re telling us, Mr. Veltman?”
Veltman argued that he was afraid of hurting others, that that is why he got out of the truck and onto his knees. But Moser said surveillance video showed police were already in sight when he exited the truck.
They discussed his use of the “OK” symbol in the police cruiser, which Veltman said was in response to an officer shouting insults at him from the window.
“I knew it was considered a racist symbol,” Veltman conceded in response to Moser’s questioning.
Through cross-examination, Veltman also admitted that police did not treat him poorly while he was in custody, though he also said they did not treat him well. Moser said that he previously testified he felt he could not ask to use the washroom, but she stressed that it was his choice not to ask and that he did end up using the washroom before his first interview with Det. Micah Bourdeau. She also noted that Bourdeau offered him food and drink.
“I don’t eat in front of people or on camera,” Veltman said.
“That’s not the question,” Moser responded. Veltman conceded that, yes, he was offered food and drink.
Following the lunch break, Moser’s focus shifted to Veltman’s interviews with Bourdeau. She repeatedly read portions of the transcript back to Veltman, asking him to confirm what he said.
Repeatedly, Veltman would agree that the transcript was accurate, but he argued that he didn’t necessarily believe what he was saying; that he was grasping at any excuse he could imagine in order to justify his actions, which he felt sick about.
Moser stated that on at least five separate occasions over the course of the two interviews, Veltman mentioned his primary reason for his actions was to send a message to so-called Muslim grooming gangs. She highlighted a point in the second interview where Bourdeau suggested that he was trying to boost the morale of other like-minded individuals but Veltman told Bourdeau that was not the reason.
“You were not grasping at any justification in your panicked and upset state,” Moser said. “You had a specific methodology of why you did what you did and you corrected the officer when he gave you (a different justification).”
Again, Veltman said he was trying to justify his actions and in his mind, the best way to do so was to say it was to save others. The back and forth over the statements in the interviews continued, with Veltman telling the jury that his justifications were “stuff I’m spouting after the fact … stuff I’m coming up with after the fact as I’m pacing this cell.”
Moser urged Veltman not to answer in regard to his current thinking but to “go back to 2021.”
“I’m going to suggest to you that at that moment in time it made perfect sense to you to commit these murders and attempt murder.”
Veltman said it didn’t make any sense.
Upon further questioning, he conceded that “obviously I was very influenced by the internet” but took issue with the word “inspired” when referring to the man who committed the New Zealand mosque attack.
“It wasn’t like I read, I didn’t read his manifesto and think, ‘I agree with everything,’” he said.
Discussing Veltman’s comments to Bourdeau about feeling “relieved,” Moser suggested that was “exactly how you felt” because he finally did what he had been planning to do, but Veltman said his first reaction was to feel sick before he had a “very short-lived, demented hysteria of ‘this is finally over.’”
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 planned his attack for three months before driving his newly-purchased Dodge Ram truck directly at the Afzaals. Defence counsel has argued that Veltman was a troubled man who was acting on urges and not thinking clearly when he stepped on the gas.
In the Defence’s opening statement, lawyer Christopher Hicks stressed that while “this is a terrible event and four innocent people died,” it’s important to approach the case in a rational manner.
“To be convicted of murder, an accused person must hold an intention to kill,” Hicks said. “Our position is that an intention to kill was not formed.”
Hicks said that the jury cannot come to any conclusions until hearing all of the evidence, which will include evidence from an expert witness, Dr. Julian Gojer, who will be able to speak on mental health issues and “most importantly as you will see, about hallucinogenic substances.”
“The only presumption in the court of law is the presumption of innocence and it exists until you say otherwise,” he said.
Court resumes Thursday morning.