December 10, 2023

Nathaniel Veltman killed four members of the Afzaal family and left a little boy orphaned, but lawyer Christopher Hicks told jurors that the defence believes there simply isn’t enough evidence to convict him of first-degree murder.

The defence presented its closing submissions Tuesday morning in the historic London, Ont., attack trial: the first time Canada’s terrorism laws are being put before a jury in a first-degree murder trial.

Veltman drove his pickup truck into a Muslim family out for a walk on June 6, 2021. The Crown argued that Veltman was motivated by white nationalist beliefs and spent three months planning the attack. It will present its closing submissions Tuesday afternoon.

The defence, however, has argued that there is a lack of evidence to allow for the jury to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Veltman is guilty of first-degree murder, be it through planning and deliberation or under Canada’s terrorism laws.

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“Planning is assigned its natural meaning of a calculated scheme or design which has been carefully thought out and the nature and consequences of which have been considered and weighed. On the evidence that we have, Nate Veltman had no such plan and has testified before you that he had no such plan,” Hicks told the court.

“A deliberate act is one that the actor has taken time to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of. Deliberate in this context means considered and not impulsive, carefully thought out, not hasty or rash. Deliberation must take place before the act of murder and consideration, even with an intention to kill, is not a deliberate murder.”

The defence’s position is that Veltman had no time to deliberate killing the Afzaal family, noting that from the time he saw them on the street to the time he turned around and began driving towards them was about 19 seconds.

Additionally, while the Crown has argued that Veltman bought and prepared his truck specifically for the attack, Hicks says the truck was “simply a truck.”

“He bought it because his Chevy Wave failed and he needed transportation to travel the 35 km to his work in Strathroy. So he purchased this used vehicle and consequently purchased a warranty to protect himself for a year. He purchased a grill bar to protect it from off-roading… and he tinted the window because he had always had tinted windows,” he told the jury.

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“Suggestions to the contrary by the prosecution on any of these points lacks any evidence. They’re speculative and conjecture.”

As for first-degree murder by way of terrorist activity, which does not require that a murder be premeditated, Hicks suggested that the document written by Veltman, ‘A White Awakening,’ was not a manifesto as described by the Crown but was “in compliance with his personality” and simply an example of him “venting to an imaginary audience.”

At no point did Veltman send the document to anyone and at no point within it does he mention violence or murder, Hicks said, though it does contain vague and ambiguous terms, including a suggestion to make lives “uncomfortable” for Muslims.

“Nate Veltman was a loner. Isolated in his childhood and his teenage years, living alone in an apartment in London, Ontario all by himself. Nate Veltman was a loner, he had no audience, he had no individual or group to whom he could or would send A White Awakening.”

Twice in his closing submissions to the jury, Hicks accepted that if the jury believes what Veltman told Det. Micah Bourdeau in two interviews conducted within the 14 hours after his arrest, then the jury likely has already made its decision.

However, he suggested that Veltman’s statements to Bourdeau are compromised by circumstances including the interplay between Veltman’s Autism Spectrum Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and personality disorder – as diagnosed by the defence’s expert witness, psychiatrist Dr. Julian Gojer – the “rebound” or lingering effect of the psilocybin he had ingested roughly 40 hours earlier, and the conditions surrounding his arrest and custody at London Police Headquarters.

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“For instance, it was brought to our attention that Nate Veltman at one point spoke virtually without pause for 15 pages of transcript. You saw the video, it would seem that he hardly drew a breath the entire time.”

Hicks suggests Veltman’s “frantic display” confirms his testimony, that he was desperately trying to rationalize and defend what he had done.

“We must also consider that this interrogation process, or interview as Det. Bourdeau called it, was a planned exercise to break Nate Veltman. It was designed to break him.”

Hicks also reminded the jury that Veltman testified that his words to Bourdeau were “not true.”

The defence suggested that Veltman drove at the Afzaal family in hopes of freeing himself of his obsessions with so-called Muslim grooming gangs. Hicks raised the question of whether Veltman was capable of forming the intent for murder and whether he did, in fact, form that intent.

“He would still be responsible for the deaths of these people. He would still be guilty of homicide… but he would be guilty of manslaughter and not murder. Where there is a death but the death is not intended, that is manslaughter.”

Lastly, Hicks noted that because the accused testified – which is not required by law – the defence counsel must address the jury first “and with no right of reply” after the Crown presents its closing submissions.

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“So, I would then ask you, in listening to the Crown’s closing address, to bear in mind my comments and to put yourself in my shoes as it were and say ‘what might the defence say to that?’ As I understand it, that is part of your duty as jurors as well.”

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