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Orphaned boy’s statement read at sentencing for man who murdered Muslim family

Click to play video: 'Victim impact statements continue for 2nd day at sentencing for killer of Muslim family'
Victim impact statements continue for 2nd day at sentencing for killer of Muslim family
WATCH: Family friends shared how the murders of four members of the Afzaal family and the attempted murder of a fifth by Nathaniel Veltman have impacted at sentencing proceedings in London, Ont. Sean O’Shea reports – Jan 5, 2024

Warning: Readers may find the contents of this story disturbing.

A little boy who was just nine years old when his parents, sister and grandmother were brutally murdered in a violent, targeted attack against Muslims in London, Ont., outlined the drastic changes to his life and the extreme loss that he has suffered since June 6, 2021.

A victim impact statement from the now-11-year-old was read into court by relative Areeb Siddiqui, who was surrounded by other family members acting as support at the London Courthouse on Friday, the second day of sentencing proceedings for Nathaniel Veltman.

Veltman, 23, was found guilty in November of four counts of first-degree murder and one of attempted murder for driving his pickup truck into the Afzaal family on June 6, 2021. Veltman told police hours later that he had decided he was “going to commit a terrorist attack” and “hoped to inspire more young men.”

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The attack killed Salman Afzaal, 46, his 44-year-old wife, Madiha Salman, their 15-year-old daughter, Yumna, and her 74-year-old grandmother, Talat Afzaal.

In the boy’s statement, he said he was left with a broken leg and collarbone and will eventually have to get a metal plate taken out of his leg and have to re-learn how to walk.

He said since the attack, he’s had to leave the family home he had lived in since he was three years old. He will never again get to enjoy any of the wonderful food his mother would cook, nor get to enjoy his father’s butter chicken, his sister’s pasta, or his grandmother’s potato wedges.

He looked to the future, grieving all of the family events like weddings that his family will not be at. Or when he one day has children, that he “wouldn’t be able to see Ommi and Baba as grandparents.”

“Me and Yumna had plans that when she finally got her driver’s licence, she would drive me around. She said it would cost 25 cents per drive,” he shared. Now, that won’t happen.

Before, he said, the mural designed by Yumna was just “a cool art piece” but now “it’s in memory of her.”

He concluded his statement by addressing other young kids, saying that he used to get annoyed when his parents would nag him about homework when he just wanted to play video games.

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“Once they leave you, you start to really notice how much they cared about you,” the statement read.

“You may think your siblings are really annoying — and to be honest I thought the same about Yumna — but when they leave you, you’d love to fight with them one last time.”

The statement was the last of 71 statements entered into court over two days from family members, friends and community members.

Click to play video: 'Sentencing underway for man who murdered Muslim family'
Sentencing underway for man who murdered Muslim family

Thursday’s proceedings focused largely on statements from family, with many of the boy’s aunts, uncles and cousins sharing stories of pain, grief, loss, and fear but also of resilience and renewed faith.

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Friday’s proceedings began with friends and schoolmates speaking to the void left in their lives because of the offender’s actions that day.

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Imtiaz Shah, a friend of the father’s, told a story of the last potluck dinner at his house, when he chastised his friend for still cutting up meat for his little boy, saying he should be doing it himself.

“I did not know that the same boy will be without parents next year,” he told court.

Some of the boy’s classmates spoke about how the attack left them wondering for their own safety with one little boy telling court, “I learned that the world wasn’t as good as I thought.”

Speaking on behalf of local imams, chair of the London Council of Imams, Imam Abd Alfatah Twakkal, told court that many in the local Muslim community expressed fears for their safety in the wake of the attack.

“I know of many Muslim women young and old who contemplated taking off their hijab, with some eventually doing so, solely because they felt threatened by being visibly Muslim while walking out in public spaces.”

He referenced a passage from the Quran, saying whoever takes an innocent life, it’s as if they’ve killed all of humanity.

“Not only once, but four times over. That is the sense felt by our community through the loss of the four precious souls representing three generations of the Afzaal family,” he said.

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Then, continuing the verse, he concluded that “through our actions, if we are able to save a single life, it will be as if we have saved all of humanity.”

The local public board, the Thames Valley District School Board, was also represented in court by its legal counsel, Ali Chahbar.

“When our students ask about love and sacrifice, we will teach them about the Afzaal family,” he said.

“When our students ask about hate and discrimination, we will teach them that these concepts have no place in civil society… that the purveyors and practitioners of hate will be forgotten by history, existing only as a cautionary footnote for future generations.”

He said the TVDSB community will “always walk in lockstep with the downtrodden” and that annually on June 6 they hold an event to “finish the walk” that the Afzaal family took on June 6, 2021.

“These students represent the very best of us and walk in repudiation of the very worst of us.”

He added that students will be taught about Our London Family “so that the Afzaals will live forever with us together,” and then — turning his gaze to Veltman — said, “while the hate will die alone.”

Speaking on behalf of the Youth Coalition Combating Islamophobia, which formed in the wake of the attack, Jenna Khorshed told court that “the world we inherited let us down” and that they have been unfairly tasked with “the responsibility of making the world safer” for themselves and future generations.

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“Muslim kids deserve to feel safe too. Muslim kids deserve to live,” she said.

“June 6 forever changed our feelings of safety, security and youthful naivety that others are afforded… we all walk knowing that it could have been any of us (killed June 6).”

She said the local Muslim community, “known for its warmth and openness,” now has an “air of caution.”

From a clinical perspective, a victim impact statement from Dr. Javeed Sukhera with Vanier Children’s Services, read by Crown attorney Sarah Shaikh, discussed the widespread psychological impacts of the attack.

Sukhera, who was the chair of the London Police Services Board at the time of the attack, wrote in his statement that the mental health impacts of Islamophobia are clearly demonstrated in empirical literature and that when people experience anti-Muslim sentiment, they experience physical symptoms of stress.

He added that this stress can lead to Muslim children holding themselves back from participation and censoring themselves and can lead to physical withdrawal, social isolation and difficulty or anxiety when trying to access mental health services.

“When you are in fear, that sensitizes you to perceive everything that happens” as a threat, that has left many afraid to leave their homes.

Other religious communities also voiced fears of being targeted simply for their faith.

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Prabh Singh Gill with United Six, a group associated with the United Nations, said the Sikh community shares “a unique and respectful bond with the Muslim community.”

“The loss of the Afzaal family has therefore been felt as a loss within our own community.”

He added that the fight continues for a more just and compassionate society where we understand and acknowledge our differences and celebrate similarities.

“We need to recognize the human race as one.”

Rabbi Debra Dressler shared that the attack “punctured the sense of security Jews in our community” had felt.

“For the first time in my memory, we have thought twice about placing a Hannukah Menorah in our window.”

She said she has heard from multiple young people who have felt afraid of wearing jewelry or clothing that could identify them as Jewish.

“There is an old adage that what begins with the Jews doesn’t end with the Jews. I believe this to be equally true for Muslims. Before now, being victimized based on our religious identity seemed an abstraction,” she said, adding that it now feels like a plausible threat.

Victim impact statements concluded Friday afternoon, with sentencing submissions from the Crown and defence expected at the next court date, Jan. 23.

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Veltman was found guilty last November following more than two months of proceedings in a historic trial that marked the first time Canada’s terrorism laws were put before a jury in a first-degree murder trial.

However, the jury’s decision did not reveal whether they concluded that Veltman’s actions reached the threshold for first-degree murder due to terrorist activity, due to being planned and deliberate or both.

The question of terrorism may be answered during the sentencing portion of the trial, as the judge may make a decision about whether the murders constitute an act of terror as part of potential aggravating factors in the case.

Regardless, under the Criminal Code of Canada, a conviction of first-degree murder comes with an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole for at least 25 years.

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