The trial of Nathaniel Veltman, charged with intentionally running down a Muslim family in Ontario in 2021, began amidst calls for justice from the Muslim community and human rights advocates across Canada.
Jury selection commenced on Tuesday in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in Windsor, as Veltman entered not-guilty pleas to four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder in connection with the tragic attack that occurred in London, Ontario, located approximately 200 kilometers (125 miles) west of Toronto.
The incident on June 6, 2021, claimed the lives of Salman Afzaal, 46; his wife Madiha, 44; their 15-year-old daughter Yumna; and Salman’s mother, Talat, 74, while seriously injuring their nine-year-old son. Authorities at the time characterized the attack as an act of terrorism targeting the family due to their Islamic faith, resulting in charges against Veltman for terrorism-related offenses.
“We will be watching this trial closely,” stated the National Council of Canadian Muslims advocacy group, emphasizing the importance of justice in this case. Relatives of the victims, such as Shaukat Rizvi, expressed confidence in the Canadian justice system, echoing the broader Muslim community’s sentiments.
This trial reignited traumatic memories for Canadian Muslims, following previous incidents of violence, including the deadly 2017 assault on a Quebec City mosque and a fatal stabbing at another mosque in Toronto in 2020. In response, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government convened a national summit on Islamophobia and appointed Amira Elghawaby as Canada’s first special representative to address the issue.
Amira Elghawaby expressed solidarity with the Afzaal family and the Muslim communities affected by the tragedy, underscoring the emotional weight of the proceedings. “We will not forget: Talat, Madiha, Yumnah, Salman,” she affirmed on social media.
In June, the Ontario government allocated approximately $372,000 (500,000 Canadian dollars) to support London in developing an anti-hate public education campaign and an online library of resources. London Mayor Josh Morgan emphasized that this investment aimed to foster acceptance in the city, emphasizing the importance of speaking out against hatred and taking meaningful action.
Veltman’s trial in Windsor is anticipated to extend over 12 weeks, marking a significant legal event as the first instance where terrorism will be argued before a jury in a first-degree murder case under Canada’s anti-terrorism laws. Christopher Hicks, Veltman’s lawyer, reiterated the principle of the presumption of innocence, emphasizing its paramount importance in the legal process.