Authorities in Canada have filed terrorism charges against a man accused of hitting a Muslim family with a pick-up truck in Ontario earlier this month. He was already charged with murder over the incident branded a ‘hate crime’.
New charges against the suspect, Nathaniel Veltman, 20, were made public on Monday. Canadian prosecutors approved the additional charges last Wednesday, Federal Prosecutor Sarah Shaikh told an Ontario court.
Earlier, the Integrated National Security Enforcement Team of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) joined the investigation into the June 6 incident.
“The federal and provincial attorneys general provided their consent to commence terrorism proceedings, alleging that the murders and the attempted murder also constitute terrorist activity,” the RCMP said after Monday’s hearing.
Given the new charges, prosecutors will have to prove the suspect intended to intimidate a certain social group “for a political, religious or ideological purpose, objective or cause.” Veltman has no known ties to any extremist or hate groups. Earlier, the police chief of London, Ontario, where the attack took place, said that the suspect apparently acted alone.
Police treated the incident as a hate crime immediately after the attack, saying they believed the family was deliberately targeted “because of their Islamic faith”, without providing further details.
According to Canadian media reports, the suspect was wearing what looked like a military-style helmet and a vest at the time of the incident, and had his vehicle outfitted with a ram bar. The reports also said that court records of his parents’ divorce dating back to 2016 described Veltman as a person with some “mental health needs,” who received some medication and counselling.
Four people were killed in the incident, including a 15-year-old girl, her parents and a grandmother. A nine-year-old boy survived, but suffered serious injuries and was only recently discharged from hospital.
The incident sparked a wave of indignation among Canadian politicians and civil rights activists. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called it a “terrorist attack motivated by hatred” and said that his government would take more action to dismantle far-right hate groups. Minister of Public Safety Bill Blair denounced the crime as a “horrific act of Islamophobia”, while numerous civil rights activists urged law enforcement to classify the attack as a terrorist act.
Police have been previously reluctant to make such charges, which are harder to prove in Canadian courts, and several high-profile cases were not treated as such in the past. The 2017 Quebec City mosque shooting that killed six people and left five others seriously injured was treated as first-degree murder, with the perpetrator sentenced to life in prison.
Another attacker who hit and stabbed a police officer and struck four people with a truck in Edmonton in 2017 was not charged with terrorism-related offenses even though an Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) flag was found in his car, according to police.
Canadian law enforcement did press terrorism charges in two cases last year, one of which involved an alleged Islamic State supporter killing a woman with a hammer, and the second concerning an alleged “incel” killing one employee and injuring another at a Toronto massage parlor. Neither of those two cases has gone to trial so far.