On June 6, 2021, four members of the Afzaal family (three generations) were killed and one member of the family was hospitalized with serious injuries after being run down by a black pickup truck while out for a walk in their northwest London neighbourhood. Police report that the family was targeted due to their Muslim faith.
The lone survivor of the attack, 9-year-old Fayez Afzaal was recently released from hospital and is expected to recover. He is currently convalescing with family and they wish to keep details regarding his recovery private.
A twenty year old resident of London, Ontario, Nathaniel Veltman (“Veltman”), was arrested minutes after the attack in a mall parking lot four miles away from where the attack occurred. He was wearing a military-style helmet and body-armour-type of vest. He was then charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder.
According to police, Veltman does not have a criminal record and is not known to be a member of a hate group.
Police in London believe that Veltman targeted the Afzaal family due to their Islamic faith.
Prime Minister Trudeau characterized the attack as an act of terror. In Parliament, PM Trudeau stated:
This killing was no accident. This was a terrorist attack motivated by hatred in the heart of one of our communities.
TERRORISM CHARGES LAID
Last week following the funeral for the Afzaal family, it was disclosed that new terrorism charges were laid against Veltman during a brief court appearance. Veltman, if convicted for any of the four first-degree murder charges, already faces a life sentence with no parole for 25 years. The terrorism charges will not add any further jail time to this life sentence.
Following an investigation, London police, in conjunction with the RCMP Integrated National Security Enforcement Team, the Ministry of the Attorney General and PPSC, determined that Veltman should be charged with terrorist activity.
Thus far, police have not revealed what evidence led to the assessment that the murders were motivated by hate.
This is the third time in the past year that terrorist activity charges have been laid in Ontario. This is also a significant occurrence as it is the first time that Canada’s antiterrorism laws have been used to prosecute an alleged Islamophobic act.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland praised the laying of the terrorism charges and stated:
I think it is really important for us to name it as an act of terror. It is important for us to identify this as an act of Islamophobia and it is important for us to identify the terrible threat that white supremacism poses to Canada and to Canadians.
DEFINING TERRORIST ACTIVITY IN CANADA
The Criminal Code (“CC”) includes and defines the crime of terrorism (section 231 (6.01)). One can find the definition of “terrorist activity” within the CC, which includes two components and applies to activities inside or outside of Canada. Meeting the definition of either component constitutes a terrorist act. The first component is defined as an act or omission, in or outside of Canada, that would be an offence under the major international treaties that apply to terrorist activities, such as hijacking and terrorist bombing. The second component can be found in section 83.01(1) of the CC ,which defines “terrorist activity” as:
- an act or omission, in or outside Canada, that is committed in whole or in part for a political, religious or ideological purpose, objective or cause, and
- in whole or in part with the intention of intimidating the public, or a segment of the public, with regard to its security, including its economic security, or compelling a person, a government or a domestic or an international organization to do or to refrain from doing any act, whether the public or the person, government or organization is inside or outside Canada and,
- that intentionally causes death or serious bodily harm to a person by the use of violence; endangers a person’s life; causes a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or any segment of the public; causes substantial property damage if causing such damage is likely to result serious harm; causes serious interference with or serious disruption of an essential service, facility or system, other than as a result of advocacy, protest, dissent or stoppage of work that is not intended to result in serious harm.
The main difference between other offences in the Criminal Code and an act of terrorism is the focus on “intention”. The controversial “motive clause” requires authorities to prove an individual’s alleged terrorist actions were motivated by religious, ideological or political beliefs, although proof of motive is generally not required in Canadian criminal law. It is clear that there needs to be enough evidence to provide in Court that the crime was motivated by ideology.
Veltman made a brief court appearance on June 21 at which time his case was adjourned until June 28 in order to allow him to retain a lawyer. We will continue to follow any developments in Veltman’s criminal case and will report on them in this blog.
If you have been charged with a criminal offence or have any questions regarding your legal rights, please contact the experienced criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947. We offer a 24-hour phone service to protect your rights and to ensure that you have access to justice at all times. We are available when you need us most.