The trial of a man facing terror-related murder charges in the deaths of four members of a Muslim family in London, Ont., in 2021 is set to start Tuesday.
Jury selection will begin Tuesday morning for the trial of Nathaniel Veltman who is accused of deliberately hitting the Afzaal family with his truck as they were out for a walk on the evening of June 6, 2021.
Superior Court Justice Renee Pomerance ruled last year that a change of venue is warranted in the case, moving the trial from London to Windsor, Ont.
The reasons for that decision, as well as the evidence and arguments presented in court, cannot be disclosed due to a publication ban.
Salman Afzaal, 46, his 44-year-old wife Madiha Salman, their 15-year-old daughter Yumnah and her 74-year-old grandmother, Talat Afzaal, were killed in the attack. The couple’s nine-year-old son was also seriously hurt but survived.
Veltman, who was 20 at the time of his arrest, is facing four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder in what prosecutors allege was an act of terrorism targeting London’s Muslim community.
According to The Canadian Press, the lawyer representing Veltman entered not guilty pleas on the charges on his behalf.
- 12-year-old boy in B.C. dies by suicide in response to online sextortion, police say
- Man charged after 3 Palestinian students shot while wearing keffiyeh scarves
- Man accused of giving teens food, drugs facing sex crimes charges: Ontario police
- Langside homicide update: 4th fatality confirmed, victim identities released
The National Council of Canadian Muslims held a news conference on Tuesday morning, marking the start of the trial and expressing hopes of a “swift process.”
“Our community has been terrorized time and time again and we will not stand for it anymore,” said Aasiyah Khan, chief operating officer of the national council. “We look forward to seeing how our court system will send a message that all Canadians should be protected from terrorism, no matter the ethnicity or ideology of the attacker.
“Ultimately, we are looking for justice for our London family and for our community to feel protected, to feel safe and to know that our justice system will do what is necessary to deter this from ever happening again,” she said.
Abd Alfatah Twakkal, chair of the London Council of Imams, also spoke at the Tuesday conference, saying that as the trial gets underway, the Imams hope is that “justice will be served.”
“Our hope is that a clear message of deterrence will be made to anyone who feels that such acts of murder through hatred, and anything that lead to them, are in any way, shape or form acceptable. To be clear, they are not and never will be,” he said. “Our hope is that we can continue to heal as a community and will achieve some level of closure at the conclusion of this trial.
“We will continue to struggle against Islamophobia and all forms of hatred and discrimination that results in any harm and the loss of lives, stripping us of our basic human dignity and fundamental right to live a life of safety and security, without having to give up who we are,” Twakkal said.
The attack on the Afzaal family sent waves of shock, grief and fear across Canada and spurred ongoing calls for measures to combat Islamophobia in the country.
The federal government hosted a summit on Islamophobia in July 2021 to hear Muslim Canadians’ ideas and insights on how Ottawa can stop attacks targeting their community.
After the attack, the National Council of Canadian Muslims released a list of recommendations to fight anti-Muslim hate across Canada, including calling on the federal and provincial governments to commit to anti-Islamophobia strategies in education and provide resources to fight anti-Muslim hate.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed in January journalist and human rights advocate Amira Elghawaby as Canada’s first special representative to combat Islamophobia, to serve as an adviser and expert as the federal government works to fight religious intolerance and systemic racism.
A mural featuring a painting by Yumnah Afzaal is now the centrepiece of a permanent memorial at the site of the attack, at the intersection of Hyde Park Road and South Carriage Road.
The City of London has also dedicated a garden to the Afzaal family.
– with files from Global News’ Amy Simon.