Were deaths of 4 women a matter of 'honour'? TheStar.com - Ontario - Were deaths of 4 women a matter of 'honour'?
That's a theory being pursued by police as family members are charged with first-degree murder in bizarre drownings of a woman and three teenaged girls in the Rideau Canal
July 24, 2009
In Kingston, Ont.
After the tragedy, the mother and father wept, while the eldest son lashed out in anger, each calling it an accident, a rebellious teenager's joyride gone terribly wrong.
Yesterday, as they filed, handcuffed, one by one, into the prisoners' box, prosecutors offered a much darker explanation, calling it murder.
Authorities are exploring the possibility the deaths of three sisters and another woman, found dead in their car in the Rideau Canal in Kingston, were an "honour" killing, a crime typically committed by males against female relatives perceived to have brought shame upon the family.
Father, Mohammad Shafia, 56, wearing a shy smile; mother, Tooba Mohammad Yahya, 39, dabbing her eyes with a tissue; and son, Hamed Mohammad Shafia, with an icy stare, were all charged with four counts of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder.
They did not enter a plea, and were remanded into custody.
The Shafia sisters – Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17 and Geeti, 13 – died along with Rona Amir Mohammed, 50, on June 30. Their car, a Nissan Sentra, was found underwater near the Kingston Mills locks. The Montreal family was returning from a trip to Niagara Falls when they stopped for the night at a motel in Kingston.
Immediately after the incident, family members told reporters that Rona Amir Mohammed was the father's cousin. However, police now say she was, in fact, Shafia's first wife.
Trouble appears to have been percolating inside the Shafia household. Montreal's child protection agency, the Direction de la protection de la jeunesse, visited the family on three occasions several months ago, sources told La Presse
Hamed Mohammad Shafia was harsh and authoritarian with his sisters, police sources said, and Zainab had complained to police, who referred the matter to child protection services because the brother was not yet 18.
The charges indicate investigators believe the plans to commit the murders began as early as May.
Yesterday, Kingston Police Chief Stephen Tanner began a press conference with a moment of silence for the victims. They "all shared the rights within our great country to live without fear, to enjoy safety and security, and to exercise freedom of choice and expression and yet had their lives cut short by members of their own family."
Asked whether police believe the deaths were "honour" killings, as suggested in an email to police by Rona Amir Mohammed's sister Diba Masoomi, who lives in France, Tanner suggested it was possible but not certain and will form part of the investigation.
Neither Tanner nor Insp. Brian Begbie would directly give a motive for the murders. Tanner noted the behaviour of one or more of the teenagers may have played a role.
The Shafia family hails from Kabul, Afghanistan, one of the countries in which honour crimes are most common, and lived in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, for 15 years before arriving in Canada two years ago.
In the days following the deaths, family members speculated to reporters that one of the sisters, likely Zainab, might have taken the car to practise driving.
The family members said Zainab was rebellious and had taken the car in the past.
But this is "false," Begbie said. Investigators believe that on the night of the murders, the three accused operated the car. He did not say if the victims were dead before the car entered the water.
The family's version of events was always puzzling to investigators, particularly as to how the car made it through numerous obstacles to end in the water at the locks.
Speaking to reporters shortly after the deaths, the parents appeared to be distraught. On July 3, Shafia sobbed as he held a photo album in the family's home. "Three night no sleeping, no eating."
The application of the phrase "honour killing" can be contentious, particularly for minority communities that fear being collectively tarred by the violence of a small number of people.
Anver Emon, a University of Toronto law professor who specializes in Islamic law, said he sympathizes with such concerns but supports the employment of the phrase when justified by the facts.
"From a social perspective, you don't want to criminalize a community by associating them with a particular, heinous act of violence," Emon said.
"On the other hand, from a legal perspective ... why `honour killing' can be useful is that it captures the idea of a kind of premeditation – that this wasn't an in-the-moment, spur-of-the-moment crime of passion but something that may have been planned. . . . It speaks to a kind of evil and hideousness that we must at all times prevent."