Detective noticed London accused's demeanour changed after attack, trial hears

A man accused of murdering four members of a Muslim family in Ontario changed his demeanour with police, becoming more subdued, during his second interview with a detective in the aftermath of the attack, his trial heard Thursday.

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, who questioned Veltman at length during two interviews, told jurors on Thursday that the man's demeanour changed over time at the police station where he was held.

Veltman had initially been talkative during his first interview, about four hours after the attack, Bourdeau said, but became quieter and more subdued during his second interview – which took place about 13 hours after his arrest.

"His demeanour did change from our first interview to our second," Bourdeau said.

"He was fairly calm."

Bourdeau said Veltman declined during the second interview to answer questions about specifics or topics that appeared to be difficult for him to talk about.

The detective said he didn't have any concerns about the change in demeanour because it appeared to be normal, given the circumstances.

"Over time, things might have started to sink in and caused him to be more thoughtful about it," Bourdeau said. "It wasn't unexpected on my behalf."

The trial has seen video of Veltman speaking with the detective, saying he was "shaken up" after the attack.

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.

Veltman's defence lawyer has 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.

Lawyer Christopher Hicks has also asked Bourdeau whether interviewing Veltman after midnight 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.

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 Thursday, Ontario Crown lawyer Fraser Ball asked Bourdeau whether London police have any protocol to make it easier for them to elicit confessions from people.

Bourdeau said London police have protocols related to treatment of people in custody but those have nothing to do with the investigation and interview processes.

"So no, there is no protocol to increase someone's vulnerabilities prior to an interview," he said. "There is no intent to take advantage of anyone."

Earlier this week, 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.

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

Bourdeau said he didn't interpret Veltman's comments as an indicator of a mental problem because some of those comments referred to matters in the past and not what he was feeling at the time.

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.

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 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. 21, 2023.

Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press