Canada authorities lay terror charges against suspected killer of Muslim family

Ontario’s London Police Service announced Monday in conjunction with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) that the suspected killer of a family of four Muslims, 20-year-old Nathaniel Veltman, is being charged with terrorism in addition to murder. The victims are the Afzaal family, who were killed on June 6 when Valtman allegedly struck them with his vehicle while they were walking through their neighbourhood. Police apprehended Veltman shortly after the killing, and believe that he targeted the Afzaal family specifically because of their Muslim faith.

Last week the London Police Service charged Veltman with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder. Working with the RCMP, the Integrated National Security Enforcement Team (INSET), the Ministry of the Attorney General, and the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, they determined and announced on Monday the alleged acts of Veltman constitute terrorist activities.

The added terrorism charge is pursuant to section 83.03(1)(b) of the Canadian Criminal Code, which defines terrorism as an act committed “in whole or in part for a political, religious, or ideological purpose” that intentionally “causes death or serious bodily harm,” among other potential qualifications. To meet this definition, the Crown prosecution must prove the acts meet this definition beyond reasonable doubt.

In accordance with section 231 (6.01) of the Code, the requirement for death to have been intentional is omitted for first-degree murder charges when death occurs in the course of committing or attempting to commit terrorist offenses. The Crown will still need to establish that Veltman’s actions were planned and deliberate.

According to a 2018 government report, since terrorist offenses were entered into the Code in 2001, only 55 charges had been laid at the time of that publication. The high threshold for the burden of proof has historically deterred the Crown from pursuing terrorist charges, but recent social and political pressures to hold racist wrongdoers accountable is putting Canada’s terrorism laws to the the test. Factors that weigh into whether these charges will be pursued include “the law [and jurisprudence], available evidence, the likelihood of conviction and the public interest.”

It will be a number of years before this trial and possible appeals are finalised, but this has the potential to become a landmark case for Canadian criminal justice.