Canadian Court Says No “Honor” in Killing Women
Two and a half years after the bodies of four women were pulled from a car that had plunged into the Rideau Canal at Kingston Mills, Ontario, their murderers have been found guilty. Mohammad Shafia, 58, his wife Tooba Yahya, 42, and their son Hamed, 21, will spend the rest of their lives in prison.
The drama began June 30, 2009, when a black Nissan Sentra was discovered near the Kingston Mill Locks. Inside were the bodies of three daughters of Mohammad Shafia and Tooba Yahya: Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17, and Geeti, 13. Their aunt (Mohammad’s first wife), Rona Amir Mohammad, 50, was found with them.
Mohammad Shafia and his wife reported their daughters missing. When the bodies were retrieved, the pair made a show of grief, but on July 22nd police arrested them and their son as they were heading for Montreal’s international airport. A tip from one of the girls’ relatives, along with evidence the deaths were suspicious, prompted Kingston police to arrest the trio before they could flee the country.
Abuse Escalated As Girls Became Westernized
The Shafia family was originally from Afghanistan. When Mohammad Shafia’s first wife, Rona Amir, proved unable to bear children, he took a second wife. Tooba Yahya bore him seven children. Though Amir requested a divorce, Shafia refused.
When the family moved to Canada after a decade in Dubai, they claimed Amir was a domestic servant so they could bring her with them. As the older girls adapted to western culture, their father became increasingly abusive. Amir and the girls lived in fear for their lives.
Finally, Zainab secretly married her boyfriend to escape the family. The marriage was annulled after one day, and Zainab was returned to the family home. For Mohammad and his wife and son, Zainab’s defiance was unforgivable.
Father Accused Daughter of Being a Whore
During the trial, jurors heard wire-tap evidence of Mohammad Shafia’s rage at his daughter’s defiance. He said:
If we remain alive for one night or one year, we have no tension in our hearts, [thinking that] our daughter is in the arms of this or that boy, in the arms of this or that man. God curse their graduation! Curse of God on both of them, on their kind! God’s curse their generation! May the Devil s— on their graves! This this what a daughter should be? Would a daughter be such a whore?
The family’s honor was at stake. Sahar and Geeti were also adopting western dress, refusing to wear traditional garb, meeting boys. In a conversation recorded by police, Mohammad Shafia said:
They betrayed humankind; they betrayed Islam; they betrayed our religion and creed; they betrayed our tradition; they betrayed everything.
Three-month Trial Ends in Conviction
Reporting the outcome of the trial, the Montreal Gazette wrote:
Geeti and other Shafia children spoke to police in April 2009, roughly 10 weeks before their deaths. They told officers they feared violence from their father because their sister Zainab had run away from home. Geeti told the police that a week earlier her father had pulled her hair and hit her in the face. She said her brother Hamed punched her in the eye with his fist. The assaults came after the children returned home at 9 p.m., after their curfew, from a trip to a shopping mall.
Father, mother and brother plotted and carried out the murder of these three young women out of a twisted sense of shame that had nothing to do with honor and everything to do with hatred of women. Three younger children were spared, but their lives will be forever marred.
In his last remarks to the three killers, Ontario Superior Court Judge Robert Maranger said:
The apparent reason behind these cold-blooded, shameless murders was that the four completely innocent victims offended your twisted notion of honour, a notion of honour that is founded upon the domination and control of women, a sick notion of honour that has absolutely no place in any civilized society.
No Honor in Murder
Shortly after the murders, Daniel Dale wrote in the Toronto Star:
Ill-informed religious zealotry animates some “honour” murderers. Some perpetrators are encouraged by cultures that tolerate or encourage their violence. And in some countries, honour killing is legitimized by sexist law. Under Iraq’s penal code, for example, an “honour” defence can reduce a prison sentence from life to one year.
Culture and law, however, cannot be solely blamed for the phenomenon. The great majority of residents of patriarchal societies with lenient laws do not kill.
The four women murdered in Ontario are victims in a global war against women. It is a war in which everyone loses – women, men and children. It is time that war ended.
On December 9th, imams across Canada gave sermons condemning domestic violence and honor killings. On December 10th men in the Toronto Muslim community launched their own White Ribbon campaign, pledging “to never commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women and girls.”
May their commitments lead to a safer world for women and girls.
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Photo 1: Zainab Shafia and boyfriend Ammar from trial documents; Photo 2: Zainab Shafia, from trial documents; Photo 3: Sahar Shafia, media handout