“Their lives were taken in a brutal, cowardly, and brazen act of violence. This killing was no accident. This was a terrorist attack motivated by hatred in the heart of one of our communities.”
That was Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, speaking to reporters last Tuesday. Over in Pakistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan blamed the attack on “growing Islamophobia” in Western countries that “needs to be countered holistically by the international community.”
Ontario premier Doug Ford proclaimed that “justice must be served for the horrific act of hatred that took place.” London, Ontario, mayor Ed Holder told reporters, “this was an act of mass murder, perpetrated against Muslims, against Londoners, and rooted in unspeakable hatred.” London detective superintendent Paul Waight said, “there is evidence that this was a planned, premeditated act, motivated by hate. We believe the victims were targeted because of their Islamic faith.”
Mustafa Farooq of the National Council of Canadian Muslims said “this is a terrorist attack on Canadian soil, and should be treated as such.” What, exactly, was this carefully planned terrorist attack that had drawn such international wrath?
On June 6, Salman Afzaal, 46, his wife Madiha, 44, their daughter Yumna, 15, Fayez, nine, and Salman’s mother, Talat, 74, immigrants to Canada in 2007, were waiting an at intersection when they were struck by a truck driven by 20-year-old Nathaniel Veltman. The crash killed all but Fayez, who remains in hospital.
Police arrested Veltman, reportedly wearing body armor, a military-style helmet, and a Nazi T-shirt. He allegedly laughed about the crash, indulged in strange chanting, and requested that a movie made of him. As one headline put it “Christian terroristwho mowed down Muslim family ‘was laughing’ as he got out of blood covered truck.”
The sole source for these details was a “veteran cabbie,” now allegedly too traumatized to speak, so the spokesman was Iranian immigrant Hasan Savehilaghi, who operates the cab company. Since Savehilaghi had not been a witness on the scene, the account was entirely hearsay. Savehilaghi did not explain how Veltman had planned to be driving near the intersection precisely when the Afzaal family was waiting to cross the street.
Nathaniel Veltman, it turns out, is one of six children, including a twin sister, and grew up in a Christian family in Strathroy, Ontario. Veltman attended Fanshawe College in London and works at a local egg packing company.
An internet search revealed nothing about Veltman or any associations with online hate sites. Friends and co-workers told reporters they never heard him say a bad thing about the Middle East or Muslims. One friend described Veltman as a good Christian. On the other hand, a psychologist once flagged “anger” issues, and the 20-year-old was once described as “socially awkward.” Those conditions, hardly uncommon, caused no problems with the police, and Veltman had no criminal record.
Two neighbors told reporters Veltman lived alone, played video games, and sometimes made too much noise late at night. Several reports carried photos of the bespectacled suspect, one from his high-school yearbook.
According to a CBC News report, when arrested Veltman was wearing “something similar to body armor.” That could make him a “pseudo-commando” subtype, according to criminology professor Mike Arntfield. The former London police officer found nothing about Veltman on the internet.
None of the early reports speculated that Veltman may have been intoxicated, or his driving impaired by some medical condition. Reports ignored the possibility that his truck may have somehow malfunctioned, and that the deaths might have been in any way accidental.
The default explanation, before any court proceedings, sworn testimony, or examination of evidence, profiled Veltman as a mass murderer, a Nazi “commando” type who had targeted a family for death because of their Muslim faith. This was “not an accident” but a hate crime and terrorist act motivated by Islamophobia. Prime minister Justin Trudeau, who is not a lawyer, amplified these charges before any investigation or due process of law had taken place. The rush to judgment invites a comparison with a case down the road in Windsor Ontario.
In October 2017, Habibullah Ahmadi, 21, attacked Anne Widholm, a 75-year-old grandmother as she strolled on a local trail. Ahmadi beat the elderly woman into a coma, inflicting the most serious injuries Dr. Balraj Jhawar had ever seen. Widholm never emerged from the coma, a “fate worse than death,” according to the neurosurgeon, and died more than a year later.
Police initially described the attack as “random,” and failed to raise questions of motive. News reports included no photo of Habibullah Ahmadi, nothing about his background, and no profiles from friends or relatives. Prime Minister Trudeau and provincial politicians said nothing about the case, one of the most brutal murders in Canadian history.
Habibullah Ahmadi’s trial left the question of motive unexplored. The convicted murderer would be eligible for parole after 13 years, a full 12 years less than the maximum of 25.
Nathaniel Veltman faces four counts of first-degree murder, one count of attempted murder, and possible terrorism charges. As the trial awaits, former blackface performer Justin Trudeau leads an international lynch mob howling for Veltman’s head. In Muslim-compliant Canada, his chances for a fair trial range from slim to none.