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Detective wasn't concerned about London attack accused's mental state, trial hears


A detective who interviewed a man accused of murdering four members of a Muslim family in Ontario told a jury Tuesday he didn't think there was a problem with the accused's mental health while questioning him after the attack. 

Nathaniel Veltman – who has pleaded not guilty – is charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder for deliberately hitting five members of the Afzaal family with his truck while they were out for a walk in London, Ont.

Prosecutors have alleged Veltman's actions in June 2021 amount to an act of terrorism.

Detective Micah Bourdeau questioned Veltman at length after his arrest and jurors have been watching video of their discussions. 

On Tuesday, Veltman's defence lawyer asked the detective if he was concerned about the accused's mental state after Veltman said he had felt depressed in the past and had ingested magic mushrooms one day before the attack. 

Lawyer Christopher Hicks asked the detective whether Veltman's comments indicated there might be a problem when it came to the accused's mental health. 

"I didn't interpret it that way," Bourdeau said.  

"Because some of these comments are in the past. Some are in the further past, and not all are referencing what he was feeling at that time." 

The trial also has seen video of Veltman saying he was "shaken up" after the attack and Veltman's lawyer asked the detective Tuesday if that comment caused him concern. 

Bourdeau said he would have been more concerned if the accused had said he was not shaken up. 

Jurors have also seen video of Veltman telling the detective he felt relieved after carrying out the attack, which he said was motivated by white nationalist beliefs. 

On Monday, Hicks had suggested in questions to Bourdeau that police purposefully made Veltman "uncomfortable" before his police interview by putting him in a cold detention cell with a cement bed and no blankets, food or drink for hours. Hicks also asked Bourdeau whether interviewing Veltman after midnight, hours after the attack, was necessary.

Bourdeau said the investigative team believed speaking with Veltman not long after the attack was necessary to understand the nature of what happened. 

"Our city has never seen anything like that before. I'd venture to say that we didn't exactly know what we were dealing with," Bourdeau said. 

"We did not know if there was further danger to the public and I and the investigative team felt that it was imperative to find out as soon as possible."

Jurors have seen video of the detective offering Veltman food, drink and a blanket several times during their discussion, with the detective bringing Veltman water and a blanket during the interview. 

On Tuesday morning, Superior Court Justice Renee Pomerance told jurors they should not decide the case based on sympathy or prejudice. 

"Yesterday during questioning suggestions were put to Detective Bourdeau about whether the police conduct was fair or just," she said. 

"The issue in this case is not whether the police conduct was fair or just, the issue in this case is to what extent the conditions of Mr. Veltman's detention might have affected his state of mind and or the reliability of the words that he said."

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. The couple's nine-year-old son was also seriously hurt but survived.

Jurors at the trial were shown video last week of Veltman telling police his attack was politically motivated and "was terrorism." 

Veltman told police he was against Muslims because he did not believe in multiculturalism, was against mass immigration and did not believe cultures could coexist.

Court also heard Veltman telling police he had hesitated before carrying out his attack but decided to get it "over with,'' hoping to inspire other young, white men. 

An agreed statement of facts presented to the jury has said Veltman was driving his truck north on Hyde Park Road in London when he saw the Afzaal family and made a U-turn to drive south towards them. Two women in the Afzaal family were wearing traditional Pakistani clothes at the time of the attack.

Veltman accelerated as he approached the family, and data from his truck show he steered to the right, aiming to hit the family, just five seconds before striking them, the statement said.

The trial has heard that Veltman then drove his heavily damaged truck into an almost empty mall parking lot a few minutes after the attack and asked a nearby cab driver to call 911, saying he had intentionally struck several people.

The trial, which is taking place in Windsor, Ont., is expected to last eight weeks.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 19, 2023.

Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press

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