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Man accused in London, Ont., attack has mental health issues, expert tells trial

Nathaniel Veltman is escorted leaving trial outside Ontario Superior Court in Windsor, Ont., Tuesday, Sept.5, 2023. A forensic psychiatrist is telling the trial of a man accused of killing four members of a Muslim family in London, Ont., that he was suffering from mental health issues at the time of the attack that might have impacted his ability to plan his action.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dax Melmer

The man accused of killing four members of a Muslim family in London, Ont., doesn't qualify to be considered not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder, despite having mental health issues, a forensic psychiatrist told a jury on Friday. 

On the stand in the Windsor, Ont., courtroom where Nathaniel Veltman's trial is taking place, defence witness Dr. Julian Gojer said his report found that Veltman was suffering from mental health issues at the time of the attack.

Gojer said he diagnosed Veltman with severe depression, autism spectrum disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder, among other conditions that may have impacted his ability to plan his actions and understand their consequences. 

"He is an individual who has homicidal thoughts and ideas," he said. "I think it's the disorders that allow him to continue with these thoughts and ideas."

Veltman, 22, is accused of deliberately hitting the Afzaal family with his truck on June 6, 2021, while they were out for a walk in London. Prosecutors have alleged his actions amount to an act of terrorism.

He has pleaded not guilty to four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder.

Salman Afzaal, 46; his 44-year-old wife, Madiha Salman; their 15-year-old daughter, Yumna; and her 74-year-old grandmother, Talat Afzaal, were killed in the attack, while the couple's nine-year-old son was seriously hurt but survived.

Gojer said Veltman was also diagnosed with complex trauma and personality disorders complicated by grief after the death of his great-grandmother days before the attack. 

He said "the emotions flowing" after the death of Veltman's great-grandmother, who was close to him, "would have super-imposed on the existing depression.

"These are the factors that are contributing to these (homicidal) thoughts."

Gojer said Veltman reported taking magic mushrooms a couple of days before the attack and that could also have impacted him.

"I believe that some of the effects of the mushrooms still persisted and is also a factor," he said. 

"One has to look at the entire picture."

Veltman told the jury last month that he knew his actions were considered a terrorist attack and that he was influenced by the writings of a gunman who committed the 2019 New Zealand mass killing of 51 Muslim worshippers at two mosques.

Veltman said that he had been considering using his pickup truck, which he bought a month earlier, to carry out an attack and looked up information online about what happens when pedestrians get struck by cars.

He said he wrote down data he found that indicated the likelihood of pedestrians' injury and death increased if the vehicle hitting them was travelling at higher speeds.

Veltman testified that he ordered a bulletproof vest and a military-style helmet online in the month leading up to the attack and wore them on the day he ran down the Afzaal family. 

Veltman also told the jury that he felt an "urge" to hit the family with his truck after seeing them walking on a sidewalk, adding that he knew they were Muslims from the clothes they were wearing and he noticed that the man in the group had a beard.

Jurors have previously seen video of Veltman telling a detective that his attack had been motivated by white nationalist beliefs. 

Court has heard that he wrote a manifesto in the weeks before the attack, describing himself as a white nationalist and peddling unfounded conspiracy theories about Muslims.

The case is the first where Canada's terrorism laws are being put before a jury in a first-degree murder trial.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 3, 2023. 

Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press

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