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Relatives and friends of Muslim family attacked in London, Ont., to speak at killer’s sentencing hearing today

Warning: This story contains distressing details:

An unprecedented number of people will tell a court and the convicted killer how the 2021 attack on the Afzaal family in London, Ont., has impacted them and their community, as the sentencing hearing for the 23-year-old man gets underway today. 

Nathaniel Veltman’s trial enters its final phase this week, with 70 victim impact statements expected to be read out over two days in the Superior Court of Justice in London. After 10 weeks of proceedings in Windsor, a jury found him guilty on Nov. 17 of four counts of murder and one count of attempted murder.

He had also been charged with related terror charges, which lawyers and the judge will address later this month. The third day of the sentencing hearing, Jan. 23, will see lawyers present legal arguments on the terrorism question before Justice Renee Pomerance determines her final sentence.

WATCH | The mom of one of the Afzaal family members reacts to the verdict: 

relatives and friends of muslim family attacked in london ont to speak at killers sentencing hearing today

Truck attack against Muslim family was ‘attack against … all Canadians,’ victim’s mother says

2 months ago

Duration 4:16

A jury has found Nathaniel Veltman guilty of four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder in the truck attack on a Muslim family in London, Ont., in 2021. ‘The trial and verdict are a reminder there is much more work to be done to address the hatred that exists in our society,’ said Tabinda Bukhari, mother of Madiha Salman, one of the victims.

Sentencing hearings provide an opportunity for people who knew the victims — in this case, five members of a Muslim family who were out for an evening walk when they were attacked by a pickup truck — to express what the loss has meant to them. 

“I’ve never seen this many victim impact statements. It goes to show the sense of loss that the community felt as a result of Mr. Veltman’s actions,” said Trevin David, a Toronto criminal defence lawyer who wasn’t involved in the case.

“It’s meant to give the victims or those who knew them a voice, to allow the court and the offender to hear what they meant to them. In a way, it’s a little bit like a eulogy. We’ll hear about the people who were killed, their personalities, things you wouldn’t normally see during the trial itself.” 

Family and friends of the Afzaal family, including Tabinda Bukhari, centre-left, the mother of Madiha Salman, exit the Superior Court of Justice in Windsor, Ont., after a verdict in the Nathaniel Veltman murder trial was reached on Thursday.
Family and friends of the Afzaal family leave the Superior Court of Justice in Windsor on Nov. 17 after the man charged with four counts of murder and one count of attempted murder was found guilty in the attack on the Afzaal family in June 2021. The convicted killer’s sentencing hearing begins Thursday in London. (Dax Melmer/The Canadian Press)

Yumnah Afzaal, 15, and her mom Madiha Salman, 44, and dad Salman Afzaal, 47, as well as the family matriarch, Talat Afzaal, 73, died following the attack. The youngest member of the family, a boy who was nine years old at the time, was seriously injured but survived. 

It’s expected those speaking at the convicted man’s sentencing will also include people who knew the family, as well as members of the larger London and Muslim community. Family members have said they don’t expect closure, but they do want to express the deep loss and fear they have felt since the June 2021 killings. 

Pickup truck attack deliberate, trial told

Court heard the killer deliberately drove his pickup truck into the family on a suburban London street, and he wanted to teach Muslims a lesson so they would be frightened and leave Canada. He had purchased a large truck just weeks before the attack and told police officers he was a white nationalist. 

The attack led to an outpouring of sympathy and calls for action against Islamophobia by political leaders, as well as marches and solidarity from ordinary Canadians. 

Woman speaks
Tabinda Bukhari, mother of Madiha Salman, one of the Afzaal family victims, speaks outside Ontario Superior Court in Windsor after the jury reached the guilty verdicts. (Kate Dubinski/CBC)

The trial, which was moved to Windsor to ensure an unbiased jury pool, marked a first in Canada as it allowed the jury to consider terrorism as part of their deliberations.

The victim impact statements won’t affect the sentence the killer will get, because in Canada, first-degree murder convictions carry an automatic life term with no chance of parole for 25 years.

The statements may, however, affect the sentence for attempted murder that will run concurrently with the first-degree murder sentence, as well as the judge’s ultimate determination of the facts of the case. Pomerance is expected to lay out whether she agrees with the prosecution that the killer’s attack was an act of terrorism. 

Terrorism in Canadian law is defined as an act motivated by political, ideological or religious ideas, and intended to intimidate a segment of the population.  

If Pomerance finds the attack amounted to terrorism, it could affect the killer’s parole eligibility or requirements.

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