Two Books Published on Shafia Family “honour” murders in Canada

The Globe and Mail – December 14, 2012

 

Without Honour: The True Story of the Shafia Family and the Kingston Canal Murders, by Rob Tripp (HarperCollins, 350 pages, $29.99); Honour on Trial: The Shafia Murders and the Culture of Honour Killings, by Paul Schliesmann (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 207 pages, $21.95). Paul Schliesmann won a National Newspaper Award for his reporting on the Shafia case.

In 2007, Afghan millionaire businessman Mohammad Shafia emigrated from Dubai to Montreal, buying his way into Canada under the federal investor program and bringing with him five daughters, two sons and two wives (one ostensibly a cousin). Two years later, he killed three of those daughters, Zainab, Sahar and Geeti, aged 19, 17 and 13 respectively. His first wife, Rona, 53, would also die.

At trial, Shafia presented himself as a pious Muslim, a loving if sometimes impatient father. In truth, according to these books, he was a thug and a hustler who had not stepped inside a mosque for years, a hair-triggered tyrant much feared by his daughters, and a man who made money easily and enjoyed spending it.

In his rants about “honour,” Shafia repeatedly invokes God. But as the trial jury heard, while many “honour killings” do occur in Muslim communities, Islam offers no justification anywhere for this very ancient type of murder, rooted in cultural practices that predate all the great religions.

Another focus in the two books is the disparate, sometimes muffled, cries for help from the victims-to-be in the weeks and months before the murders. Authorities in Montreal – teachers, social agencies, police – were alerted at least three times about problems in the dysfunctional Shafia home, yet the inquiries fizzled out. There were reasons: This unusual, well-to-do clan fit no familiar profile; there was no criminal history and a significant language barrier; and more than once, the children told of their father’s abusive behaviour, but then quickly recanted, saying it was all invented. Taken together, it was a recipe for inaction. One of the lingering images from the trial was the distressed testimony of teachers and social workers who wished the dots had been better connected.

 

More details of Kingston, ON “honour killing” emerge in book

The National Post – October 26, 2012

 

A lethal warning from Hamed in 2009, who was later convicted of first-degree murder along with his father, Mohammad Shafia, and mother, Tooba Yahya, is revealed in Without Honour: The True Story of the Shafia Family and the Kingston Canal Murders, a new book on the disturbing case by veteran journalist Rob Tripp.

Without Honour presents a striking portrayal of the profound disconnect between Mohammad Shafia and his adopted home after his family immigrated to Montreal in 2007. But the book, like the police investigation and the criminal trial, leaves one crucial question unanswered: How exactly were the women killed? Mr. Tripp said only three people know the true story: the three killers. And none of them have yet broken their silence.

Mr. Tripp delves into details of the family’s troubled life before the four ghastly murders and the investigation that unravelled the elaborate lies. The book shows that despite Mohammad Shafia’s professed embrace of Islam and love of family, he was, above all else, a money-obsessed, cold-hearted man. When his daughter wanted to get married, he turned to a relative to help him find a cleric to perform the service, because he did not attend a mosque. Shafia did not read the Koran, although he often evoked God’s name when berating his children, Mr. Tripp writes.

Shafia verdict prompts debate about ‘honour’ killings

News Agencies – February 1, 2012

 

The news that Mohammad Shafia, his wife Tooba Mohammad Yahya and their son Hamed Mohammad Shafia had each been found guilty of four counts of first-degree murder drew mixed reaction from across Canada. Experts in so-called honour killings — murders carried out to preserve family honour in the face of perceived disgrace — heralded the verdict as a step forward; a clear message that neither Canada’s courts nor its people will tolerate this type of crime.

But at least one Muslim women’s group says the way the Shafia case unfolded within and beyond the courtroom may have done more harm than good when it comes to public perception. “I’m frustrated and fed up with the kind of emphasis and time that’s been spent calling it an honour killing,” said Alia Hogben, executive director of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women.

Toronto Area Imams Condemn ‘Honour Killings’ following verdict

February 3, 2012

 

Amid the often disturbing anti-Muslim sentiment generated by the Shafia murder trial and its guilty verdicts, dozens of imams (religious leaders) will gather at a mosque in Mississauga Ontario to issue a fatwa, spelling out that so-called honour killings and violence toward women have nothing to do with the real teachings of Islam.

The three-months-long Shafia trial recently culminated in a total of 12 first-degree murder convictions for Afghan-Canadian businessman Mohammad Shafia, his second wife Tooba Mohammad Yahya and the couple’s eldest son, Hamed. It was freighted with evidence suggesting the three killers murdered four of their relatives because they believed the family “honour” had been stained.

The fatwa will be released Saturday afternoon at the Jamia Riyadhul Jannah Mosque on Campobello Road, where more than 30 imams and muftis (Muslim priests) including a number from the United States, will endorse it.

University of Toronto professor testifies on “honor killing” at Shafia trial

The Globe and Mail – December 6, 2011

According to Shahrzad Mojab, an Iranian-born University of Toronto professor of women’s studies who has lectured and written on the topic for many years, so-called “honour killings” are rooted in an ancient patriarchal need to control women’s sexuality, and sometimes immigrants from regions that embrace such a code cherish it more dearly than those who stay home. It is wrong to blame religion, Dr. Mojab testified, because honour killings predate all the great faiths. Worldwide, honour killings are on the rise, Dr. Mojab testified, but in North America they remain extremely rare. In 1989-2008, just 13 were identified in a 2009 article in the Middle East Quarterly cited by defence lawyer Patrick McCann, and only two took place in Canada.

Dr. Mojab was the final prosecution witness in the murder trial of Afghan-Canadian businessman Mohammad Shafia, 58, his second wife, Tooba Mohammad Yahya, 41, and their son Hamed, who turns 21 this month. The defence will soon begin its case and in a highly unusual move, its first witness is expected to be Mohammad Shafia.

More evidence heard in “honour killing” case in Ontario

News Agencies – November 23, 2011

 

More than a year before she and her two sisters drowned in a mysterious incident that is now the focus of a murder trial, a teenage student told her Montreal high school vice-principal that she had attempted suicide because her situation at home was intolerable, the jury was told. The 16-year-old listed an array of reasons for her despair and decision to swallow a heavy dose of sedative pills: verbal and physical abuse at the hands of her older brother Hamed; her parents’ insistence that she wear a hijab, the Muslim head scarf; isolation from other family members; pressure to quit school.

 

A social worker from the provincial Youth Protection Agency was therefore summoned to the Antoine de Saint-Exupéry school in the Montreal borough of St. Leonard, Ms. Fortin told the trial, as were Sahar’s parents, who showed up “very angry.”

On trial are Kabul-born Afghan-Canadian businessman Mohammad Shafia, 58, his second wife, Tooba Mohammad Yahya, 41, and their eldest son, Hamed, 20. Each is charged with four counts of first-degree murder. The charges were laid in July, 2009, three weeks after the bodies of Zainab, Sahar and Geeti Shafia, aged 19, 17 and 13, respectively, were discovered in a car at the bottom of a waterway lock on the Rideau Canal, just east of Kingston. The cause of death was drowning, autopsies showed, but where and how they perished has not been established.

“Honour Killing” trial begins in Kingston, Ontario

News Agencies – October 21, 2011

 

A car found at the bottom of an eastern Ontario canal with the bodies of three sisters and their father’s first wife suspended in the water inside seemed to trace a very deliberate path, a murder trial heard. In a case that has raised the issue of so-called honour killings, the Crown alleges the girls’ family couldn’t bear the “treachery” of their daughters having boyfriends, so they killed them and staged the scene to look like an accident.

Tooba Mohammad Yahya, 41, her husband, Mohammad Shafia, 58, and their son, Hamed Mohammad Shafia, 20, have each pleaded not guilty to four counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of sisters Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17, and Geeti, 13, as well as Rona Amir Mohammad, 50, Shafia’s first wife, who lived with the family in a polygamous relationship.

An expert will be called to testify about so-called honour killings and how in extreme cases, killing can be seen in some cultures as a way to restore honour to a family. Disobedience by a female member of the family can cause shame and taint family honour, the expert is expected testify. The trial is expected to last between two and three months.

Alleged “Honor Killing” of Four Afghan-Canadian Women from Montreal

Police identified 19-year-old Zainab Shafia, 17-year-old Sahar Shafia and 13-year-old Geeti Shafia as the sisters who were found in the vehicle submerged in the Rideau Canal near Kingston, Ontario. The body of their aunt, Rona Amir Mohammed, 50, was also retrieved from the vehicle. All four victims were from St-Leonard, a borough in Montreal.

Ms. Yahya, her 56-year-old husband Mohammad Shafia and their 18-year-old son, Hamed, are charged with four counts each of first-degree murder and four of conspiracy to commit murder in the June 30 deaths of their daughters and sisters and Mr. Shafia’s first wife, Rona Mohammad, whom he had been passing off for decades as his “cousin.”

One of the teenage girls allegedly killed by members of her Afghan-born family had been dating a Pakistani boy in Montreal against her parents’ wishes, according to a man and woman who say they are siblings of one of the victims. This allegation has spurred interpretations that the incident may be related to “honor” killings. The head of the Canadian branch of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) told news agencies that the story was unrelated to Islam. Other journalists have pointed to the dozen women who have died similarly in the last decade. Amin Muhammad, a psychiatrist who studies honour killings at Memorial University claims, “There are a number of organizations which don’t accept the idea of honor killing; they say it’s a Western-propagated myth by the media, but it’s not true,” he says. “Honor killing is there, and we should acknowledge it, and Canada should take it seriously.”