WINDSOR – In the early moments of his interview with suspect Nathaniel Veltman, London police Det. Micah Bourdeau offered him food and something to drink.
Veltman, arrested a few hours earlier for running down a Muslim family with his pickup truck, said he was fine and would let Bourdeau know if he needed anything.
Veltman’s defence lawyer suggested Tuesday Bourdeau was “exploiting” the situation to get Veltman to open up to him.
“I was not,” Bourdeau told defence lawyer Christopher Hicks, insisting there was not “protocol” set at London police headquarters to deny suspects food and drink before they are interviewed. “I was just trying to make him comfortable and to be nice.”
Veltman, 22, has pleaded not guilty to four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder for the deaths of a Pakistani-Muslim family in northwest London on June 6, 2021.
Talat Afzaal, 72, her son, Salman Afzaal, 46, his wife Madiha Salman, 44, and their daughter Yumnah, 15, were killed when Veltman drove his Dodge Ram pickup truck into them while they were out for a walk.
All four died of blunt force trauma, fractures and internal bleeding. Their son, nine at the time, was severely injured but survived.
The prosecution is seeking to prove Veltman committed planned and deliberate murder and that the killings were an act of terrorism. This is the first time Canada’s terrorism laws have been argued in front of a jury at a first-degree murder trial.
The jury has seen two lengthy, provocative police interviews, both conducted during the first 15 hours Veltman was in police custody. He had been arrested in a London shopping mall parking lot within minutes of the killings at about 8:45 p.m.
The first interview began after 1 a.m. the next morning and continued for almost three hours. During the conversation, Veltman said he had gone out in his pickup truck that evening “to kill Muslims.”
He told Bourdeau he wanted to “send a message” to Muslim grooming gangs in the United Kingdom and to be an inspiration to other young, like-minded white nationalists.
The second interview began after 10 a.m. and Veltman was far more subdued. In both interviews, he described the attack as “distasteful” but believed he had to do it.
The crux of the defence’s cross-examination of Bourdeau was to suggest the officer should have heard alarm bells going off during the interviews that Veltman was not in a normal mental state.
But Bourdeau disagreed. “I had no concerns about his state of mind when we were talking,” he said.
Hicks pointed to passages in the interview transcript when Veltman said he harboured suicidal thoughts in the past, that he had been depressed before and that in the early morning hours of the day before the attack, he had consumed magic mushrooms that had left him “feeling pretty gross.”
“All I can say to that is he was feeling depressed on Saturday (the day before the hit-and-run) and feeling gross was an after-effect from taking psilocybin (magic mushrooms),” Bourdeau said.
Veltman told Bourdeau he was feeling “down” while driving to work in Strathroy on June 6, 2021, and admitted to Bourdeau he was “a little shaken” by what he had done.
Bourdeau said he accepted what Veltman said at face value, but he had no concerns about the suspect’s state of mind.
“I didn’t doubt he felt those things, but I didn’t feel it was so concerning that we couldn’t speak any more,” he said.
Hicks pointed out Bourdeau asked Veltman point-blank about his mental state. Bourdeau said that was part of his information gathering.
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The jury was re-shown a short clip in the interview room when Veltman was left alone. He paced, then went into a corner and appeared to bend at the waist, his hands on his knees. Bourdeau walked back into the room to make sure Veltman was all right.
Bourdeau said he caught a glimpse of Veltman doubled over on a monitor and went back in to check. “I thought he might be having some stomach issues,” he said.
Hicks returned to his assertion that London police have a protocol to deny suspects nourishment until they’re being interviewed and suggested that’s why Bourdeau was offering food to Veltman.
“There is no protocol, sir,” Bourdeau said to Hicks.
Hicks also pointed to eight occasions when Veltman refused to answer Bourdeau’s specific questions and said he wanted to talk to his lawyer first. Bourdeau had made it clear several times to Veltman he didn’t have to talk to the officer if he didn’t want to.
In the second interview, which began about six hours after the first interview ended, Veltman mentioned he was “confused” and “in shock.”
He declined initially to explain why he flashed an “OK” symbol – which he later said was a nod to white power and white nationalism – with his hands at a police officer when he was arrested in the Cherryhill Village Mall parking lot.
Veltman also told Bourdeau he couldn’t remember some of the comments he made in the first interview.
Hicks asked again if these comments “bought to mind Mr. Veltman’s mental state, his state of mind.”
“No, I was not concerned about his mental state,” Bourdeau said.
The trial is taking a day off Wednesday and will return on Thursday.