Shafia family murders
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The Shafia Family murders took place on June 30, 2009 in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. Shafia sisters Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17, and Geeti, 13, along with Rona Amir Mohammed, 50, (all Afghan origin) were found dead inside a car that was discovered underwater in front of the northernmost Kingston Mills lock of the Rideau Canal. Zainab, Sahar, and Geeti were daughters of Mohammad Shafia, 58 and his wife Tooba Mohammad Yahya, 41. The couple also had a son Hamed, 20, and three other children. Rona, who was herself infertile, was the first wife of Mohammad Shafia in their polygamous household.
On July 23, 2009, Mohammad, Tooba Yahya, and Hamed were arrested on charges of four counts of first degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder under the guise of honour killing. They were found guilty of all four counts by the jury in January 2012. The trial, which took place at the Frontenac County Court House, was believed to be the first in Canada conducted in four languages – English, French, Dari and Spanish.
The trial garnered media attention in Canada for several months, and raised the debate over Canadian values, honour crimes, and violence among Muslim groups.
In 1979 or 1980, Mohammad Shafia married Rona Mohammed. The couple did not have children, and medical tests confirmed that Rona was unable to have children. In keeping with Afghan custom, and at Rona's behest, Mohammad Shafia took Tooba Yahya as his second wife. The second wedding took place in 1989, and Rona features prominently in many wedding photographs, many of which feature Shafia flanked by his two wives. The three of them lived together in one household, as is customary, and Tooba gave birth to seven children. Rona participated fully in raising and caring for the children and bonded strongly with them, as though they were her own. Her relationship with her co-wife was, however, less idyllic.
The Shafia family left Afghanistan in 1992. They moved to Australia for a brief while, and then to the United Arab Emirates, where they lived for over a decade. Mohammad Shafia made a considerable fortune in Dubai, working in the used car business and later diversifying into real estate. By 2007, he was a millionaire many times over, and decided to take advantage of an immigration programme introduced by the government of Quebec in Canada, which offered permanent residence and eventual citizenship to people who invested significant money in the province. Shafia invested $2 million in purchasing a strip-mall on the outskirts of Montreal, and a further $200,000 in building a spacious new house for his family. Shafia, his second wife Tooba and their seven children immigrated to Canada and settled in the Saint-Léonard borough of Montreal in 2007. Five months later, Shafia sponsored the immigration of Rona, telling the authorities that she was his cousin and that she would work as a cook and housekeeper.
According to a family member's interview, Rona was trapped in an abusive, loveless marriage, trying in vain to convince her husband to grant her a divorce. Rona's siblings claimed that she feared for her life during the days leading up to her death. Tooba allegedly said to Rona “You are a slave, you are a servant.” Reportedly, the Shafias held all of Rona’s identity documents, including her passport, so Rona believed she could not flee to another country, where she had relatives. It was reported that Rona came to Canada as a domestic servant on a visitor's visa and the "[visa's] renewal held over her head like an axe ready to fall" by her husband and co-wife.
They also stated that the family's eldest daughter Zainab's relationship with a Pakistani boy was a source of much anger for her father, and they claimed to have overheard the father's threats to kill her.
With parents Mohammad Shafia and Tooba Mohammad Yahya, and eldest son Hamed Shafia all in custody during the trial, the remaining Shafia children (two girls and a boy) were being cared for under social services.
On June 30, 2009, a black Nissan Sentra with a broken left taillight was spotted submerged at the Kingston Mills locks, with four female bodies found inside. Mohammad Shafia was at the Kingston Police station to report that four of their family – three teenage daughters and a purported aunt – were missing. Police initially believed that it was a tragic, if bizarre, accident, and first categorized it as a "sudden death investigation".
However, authorities soon learned that Hamed had reported an accident with the family Lexus SUV in an empty parking lot early that same morning in Montreal. Despite their suspicions, the authorities did not have "reasonable and probable grounds" or sufficient evidence to ask a judge for a search warrant. Kingston Police Det. Steve Koopman, the liaison with the Shafia family, managed to gain the Shafias' consent so that they could view the Lexus. After assessing the damage on both vehicles, police theorized that the Lexus was used to ram the Nissan into the locks.
On January 29, 2012, the jury completed its deliberation after 15 hours and reached a verdict of guilty, four counts of first degree murder for each of the three defendants. First degree murder carries an automatic sentence of life in prison without a possibility of parole for 25 years.
Media coverage of the Shafia murder trial
The coverage of the Shafia murder trial was widespread, often being on the front page of newspapers and the top story in TV newscasts. Since the case involved Afghan Canadians, questions arose as to whether or not it was correct, or even appropriate, to call the murders honour killing or simply domestic violence. While the judge who deliberated on the case referred to the act simply as murder, the media chose a different course when it called the murder "honour killing". Across media outlets, the murder was framed as such. A publication ban placed on the case prevented the media from naming the three children that are still alive, with Hamed being the fourth.
CBC News covered the trials from day 1 and went a step further by publishing its audience's comments to show how Canadians feel about the case and its details. The CBC stated that the story garnered many comments from the viewers but that they decided to publish a select few. Furthermore, the CBC did a "summary" of the comments and said that people generally "agreed with the verdict, applauding the court and the jury for its decision after the three-month trial."
CTV News published a piece saying that the trial has cast a shadow over Canada's Islamic community, further tarnishing an image that has not yet recovered from the events of 9/11. But like other media outlets, CTV has asked the Muslim community to clarify their stance on the issue of honour killing. “Muslims across the country, however, say the revelations in a Kingston, Ont., courtroom have shone a light on problematic aspects of their culture and illuminated new ways to tackle the issues.”
CTV also published a timeline of not just the events that took place in Canada but also going back all the way to the Shafia family’s days in Afghanistan.
Pascale Fournier, writing for The Ottawa Citizen, said that there was a greater tragedy in the failure of the state to intervene before the murders occurred, and that vulnerable groups from immigrant communities need the most protection but rarely get it.
The Globe and Mail
In addition to covering every detail of the trial, The Globe and Mail published a piece with the "ten most shocking quotes" from the Shafia trial one of which was by Crown attorney Gerard Laarhuis after the verdicts which is as follows:
“This jury found that four strong, vivacious and freedom-loving women were murdered by their own family in the most troubling of circumstances. We all think of these four, wonderful women now who died needless deaths. This verdict sends a very clear message about our Canadian values and the core principles in a free and democratic society that all Canadians enjoy and even visitors to Canada enjoy.”[better source needed]
This was one of the most criticized quotes by Afghan Canadians, as they asserted that intolerance towards violence against women is not just a Canadian value but a universal value and Afghans like any other peoples condemn the acts of the perpetrators.
The Montreal Gazette published a column in which it said that labelling the murders as honour killing is a mistake because domestic violence against women is ubiquitous and framing it into a particular category would mean distancing oneself from a crime that is all too common. The authors argue that premeditation is put forth as a core component to differentiate honour killings from other types of murders, such as crimes of convenience or crimes of passion. However, recent studies indicate that premeditation is as much a component in other cases of domestic violence and murder as it is in "honour killings."
"Calling the murders "honour killings" accomplishes two goals. First, it makes it seem as if femicide is a highly unusual event. Second, it makes it seem as if femicide is confined to specific populations within Canada and specific national cultures or religions in the world at large. But Canadian statistics prove otherwise. According to StatsCan figures, from 2000 to 2009 an average of 58 women a year were killed in this country as a result of spousal violence. In that same period, 67 children and young people aged 12 to 17 were murdered by family members. In contrast, recent estimates tell us that there have been 12 or 13 so-called honour killings in Canada in the last decade. It does not take a genius to see that comparing 12 or 13 against the hundreds of women and children who were victims of familial violence serves only to frame "honour killing" as peculiar, when in reality it is part of a larger pattern of violence against women."
Maclean's referred to the four murders as “honouricide”. Writer Michael Friscolanti sat throughout the three-month trial and wrote a 22-page comprehensive article detailing the girls’ lives and even wrote about how one of the girls’ tombstones has the incorrect birthdate.
“In life, and in death, they had no voice. No one to save them. No one who even cares enough to fix Geeti's headstone. Nearly three years after she was buried, it is still engraved with Sahar's birth-date, not hers."[not in citation given]
The widespread media coverage pressured the Muslim as well as the Afghan community in Canada to come out and speak about the murders.
Muslims in Canada
It has also given rise to the debate about the relationship of honour killing and Islam. Islamic organizations based in Canada condemned the murders. The Islamic Supreme Council of Canada, along with other Canadian Muslim organizations, have publicly denounced domestic violence and honour killing as un-Islamic. Ali Falih Altaie, the family imam, said that the murders were unforgivable, and cautioned against associating honour crimes with Islam, calling the actions incompatible with any religion.
In 2012 imams from across Canada and the U.S. issued a moral ruling officially condemning honour killings, domestic violence and misogyny as un-Islamic. Thirty-four imams belonging to the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada, including a handful of American members, signed the fatwa in an effort to counter misinterpretations of the Qur'an, they said.
The Afghan Embassy in Ottawa in an interview with CTVS News condemned the murders of four members of a Montreal family originally from Afghanistan. The embassy called the deaths of the three teenaged sisters and their father's first wife a heinous crime against humanity. Moreover, they claimed that this kind of crime is not part of Afghan or Islamic culture and is not acceptable in any way.
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