Canada Truck attack: Trial begins for man accused of killing Muslim family

A Canadian man accused of terrorism and murder left home with the intent to ram his vehicle "pedal to the metal" into a family of Muslims, a court has heard.

Nathaniel Veltman, 22, faces four counts of terrorism-motivated first degree murder, and one attempted murder charge at a trial in Windsor, Ontario.

He is accused of deliberately running over the Afzaal family with his truck while they were out on an evening walk in London, Ontario, in 2021.

Mr Veltman has pleaded not guilty.

The case marks the first time a jury in Canada is hearing legal arguments on terrorism related to white supremacy.

Salman Afzaal, 46, and his wife Madiha Salman, 44, were killed in the attack - along with their daughter Yumna Afzaal, 15, and Mr Afzaal's mother Talat Afzaal, 74.

The couple's nine-year-old son was seriously hurt but survived.

Prosecutors have argued that Mr Veltman, who was 20 at the time of his arrest, was motivated by hate and white nationalist ideologies when he allegedly jumped the curb with his truck and struck the Afzaal family, who were Pakistani-Canadian Muslims.

He "left his home with a specific purpose in mind: to find Muslims to kill", prosecutor Sarah Shaikh told the court's 14 jurors on Monday during opening arguments.

Ms Shaikh said the accused had told police after the attack: "I know what I did, I don't regret what I did. I admit that it was terrorism. This was politically motivated, 100%."

"He sped up, aiming to strike the family. You will hear him say, in his own words, he was driving 'pedal to the metal'," she continued, according to CBC News.

Prosecutors on Monday told the court that the accused had purchased his truck two weeks before the attack, and that he had planned the rampage for three months.

A manifesto, in which he describes himself as a white nationalist, was found in his flat after the attack, Ms Shaikh added.

The trial will be watched closely by law experts in Canada to see if the country's terrorism charges, enacted in the wake of the 11 September attacks on the US, could be applied to someone who allegedly targeted a family because they are Muslim.

"If the Crown succeeds here, we would have a much more expansive and inclusive definition of terrorism that could in principle be applied to many other offences," Andrew Botterell, a law professor at the University of Western Ontario, told the BBC.

But Prof Botterell added that even if the terrorism charge was not successfully argued, the jury could still find the accused guilty of first-degree murder.

A vigil is held in London, Ontario for the Afzaal family
Scenes from a vigil held in London, Ontario for the Afzaal family after their killings

Mr Veltman was arrested shortly after the attack on 6 June 2021 in a parking lot close to London's oldest mosque, where the Afzaal family were devoted members.

The suspect was wearing what appeared to be body armour and a helmet, police said.

The attack sent waves of grief and fear across Canada, as London's tight-knit Muslim community mourned the loss of a beloved family.

It also spurred calls for measures to combat Islamophobia in the country.

According to the London Free Press, federal prosecutor Ms Shaikh claimed that the accused had targeted the Afzaal family because they were wearing traditional Pakistani clothing.

Uthman Quick, a spokesperson for the National Council of Canadian Muslims, was present in the courtroom, and said that revisiting the details of the case had been "traumatising".

"It's two years now since this actually occurred, and it's a bit of reopening of wounds," he told the BBC.

But he added the trial was important as it marked the first time in Canada that Islamophobic violence had been categorised as terrorism.

This, he said, sends a message that "terrorism charges are equally assessed, no matter the ideology or ethnicity of the attacker".

Superior Court Justice Renee Pomerance will be overseeing the case. She moved the trial from London to Windsor, a town about 200km (125 miles) away, earlier this year for reasons covered by a publication ban.

The court is expected to hear defence arguments from Mr Veltman's lawyers later in the trial.

On Monday, Judge Pomerance said she expects the trial to last around eight weeks.