September 2023 trial date set in London, Ont. attack on Muslim family

Nathaniel Veltman faces four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder. Crown prosecutors allege each charge constituted an act of terrorism. Pam Davies / Sketch Artist

The London, Ont., man accused by police of targeting and then running down a local Muslim family with his truck along Hyde Park Road last summer will stand trial on charges of murder and attempted murder late next year.

Nathaniel Veltman, 21, is facing four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder in the June 2021 attack, the deadliest mass murder in London’s history. Veltman has also been charged with “murder-terrorist activity.”

Veltman’s trial will begin on Sept. 5, 2023, before Justice Renee M. Pomerance, with 12 weeks set aside for the proceedings. He has not yet entered a plea to his charges.

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The 21-year-old appeared by phone in Superior Court on Tuesday morning from the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre, where he has been held since he was first taken into custody the day of the attack.

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 attack, which took place as the family was out for an early evening walk. The couple’s nine-year-old son, Fayez, was left seriously injured but survived.

London police have labelled the attack a hate crime and say the family was targeted because of their religion.

Several sources familiar with the investigation have previously told Global News that the accused, then 20, was influenced by the gunman who took 51 lives at two New Zealand mosques in 2019.

Last month, newly unsealed court documents also revealed that digital forensic investigators sought access to a laptop, cellphones, USB devices, and an external hard drive belonging to Veltman days after the attack.

The 271-page document, prepared by police to obtain court approval to search Veltman’s downtown apartment and pick-up truck, shows investigators sought to search the devices for browsing data, communications, documents, videos, pictures, and evidence that Veltman may have used a particular internet browser to access the so-called Dark Web.

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Most of the document, which also contains information about interviews police conducted with several witnesses and with Veltman himself, is under a publication ban, and was released as part of a court motion by Global News and other media organizations.

It remains to be seen whether Veltman’s trial will be held in London. A change of venue application has been brought forward by the defence, a matter which will go before Justice Pomerance this June.

“It’s the publicity surrounding this matter and in the London urban centre,” said Veltman’s lawyer, Christoper Hicks, in a brief phone call with Global News on Tuesday afternoon.

“Just the notoriety of the case and the impact of that notoriety on the potential jurors who would have heard, and perhaps formed opinions about, the case on the basis of what they read in the media or heard in the media.”

The Crown filed a preferred indictment in Veltman’s case earlier this year, moving it into Superior Court and skipping the need for a preliminary inquiry. In response, the defence is bringing forward a constitutional challenge.

“We expected a preliminary inquiry,” Hicks said. “Section 577 of the (Criminal Code) … allows the prosecution to (file a) preferred indictment, in other words just send it up to high court for trial without a preliminary inquiry and without saying why they did it. That’s what we’re protesting.”

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Veltman’s case will return to court next on May 19 and 20 in relation to the constitutional challenge.

— with files from Stewart Bell, Andrew Graham, Andrew Russell

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