Hamed Shafia: The good son

An accused “honour killer” sticks up for his parents—and demands to see photos of the dead


Michael Friscolanti is covering the honour killing trial for Maclean’s, filing regular reports from the Kingston, Ont. courtroom to Macleans.ca and weekly dispatches for the magazine. The reports will continue for the duration of the trial, which is expected to run into December.

Hamed Shafia wants to look at the photographs of his dead sisters, their drowned bodies freshly extracted from an underwater car. Sgt. Michael Boyles tries to convince him otherwise, but Hamed is nothing if not determined. He wants to see the corpses. “Please,” he says quietly.

“Alright,” Boyles answers.

It is July 23, 2009, almost 3 o’clock in the morning, and the 18-year-old Afghan immigrant is sitting in a police interrogation room in Kingston, Ont. A video camera is rolling. He has just been arrested—along with his beloved mom and dad—for the alleged “honour killing” of four family members: three sisters (Zainab, 19; Sahar, 17; Geeti, 13) and his father’s first wife in the polygamous clan, Rona Amir Mohammad. The doomed foursome was found, nearly a month earlier, at the bottom of the Rideau Canal, the victims of what investigators say was a mass execution meant to look like a freak car accident.

For three hours, officers presented Hamed with clue after damning clue, including their smoking gun: shattered pieces of a Lexus headlight found at the midnight crime scene. (The victims were discovered in a submerged Nissan Sentra, but prosecutors allege that the family’s other car, a silver Lexus SUV, was used to ram the sedan over the edge of the Kingston Mills locks.) As Hamed flips through the full-page photos, his eyes fixated on the departed, Boyles urges him to finally come clean. “They deserve to know the truth,” he says. “They deserve better than this.”

“I seriously don’t know,” Hamed says, repeating his token response, but never lifting his head.

“Well, you have to explain it to me,” Boyles says.

But Hamed has                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           his own question. There are only three photos here. Where is Geeti, the youngest of the girls?

“Hamed, look at me,” the sergeant says, swiping away the pictures. “Your father shouldn’t have got you involved in this, or your mother. But he did. You need to tell the truth. You need to give them peace and let the world know what happened.” Hamed, who has barely slept over the past 48 hours, stares at the floor. “You’re doing them an injustice,” Boyles continues. “Not only are they looking like this, being brought out of the water, now you’re going to sit here and dishonour them and lie and protect your father.”

“I’m not protecting anyone,” he insists. “It’s the truth.”

“It’s not the truth.”

Again, Hamed reaches for the photos, but this time Boyles refuses to hand them over. “Why should you get to look at them if you can’t look at me and tell the truth?” he asks. “Why would they want you to see them like this? You can’t even tell the truth of how they ended up like that.”

But the answer Boyles is searching for never comes. During the four-hour interrogation, broadcast for a jury on Tuesday, Hamed Shafia sticks to the same suspicious story he has been telling police since day one: the family went on a trip to Niagara Falls, stopped at a Kingston motel for the night on the way home to Montreal, and the next morning, the girls were gone. No matter how much incriminating evidence the cops provide—or how increasingly ridiculous his answers sound—Hamed doesn’t budge. In the rare moments when he does show emotion, he is talking about his “depressed” mother, not the three daughters she allegedly helped kill.

Prosecutors contend that 58-year-old Mohammad Shafia—a multimillionaire businessman who was raised in Afghanistan but made his fortune in Dubai before moving to Canada in 2007—decided his daughters should die because they shamed the family’s good Muslim name by shunning the hijab and dating boys. (On Monday, the jury heard Shafia’s enraged voice on police wiretaps, railing against his “treacherous” daughters and urging the devil to “sh– on their graves.”) Hamed, prosecutors say, was the obedient, curly-haired son who staked out potential crime scenes and tried, ever so clumsily, to cover up their tracks, while Tooba Yahya, wife number two, was an equally willing accomplice who helped lure the girls to their grave. All three have pleaded not guilty.

Det. Steve Koopman is the first to question Hamed, dressed in green cargo pants and a black shirt. The two developed a somewhat friendly relationship over the previous three weeks, and investigators hope that Koopman can cajole a gentle confession. In one classic exchange, the detective goes so far as to commend Hamed for the manner in which the girls perished. “I’ve heard that drowning is one of the more peaceful ways to go,” he says. But Koopman doesn’t mince words, either, telling his target that “there’s absolutely no doubt” who committed this crime. “It’s not a question of: did it happen?” he says. “We know what happened. It’s a question of why it happened.”

Koopman suggests—repeatedly—that Hamed’s dad was the mastermind, and that the other two had little choice but to follow his command. “Was it a train going down the tracks?” he asks. “Is it something that you couldn’t stop and is it because your dad had made up his mind?” When Hamed, now 20, refuses to implicate his father, Koopman shifts his focus to the shards of headlight scattered at the locks. Hamed’s explanation fluctuates between “I don’t know” and maybe somebody planted the evidence there. “You need to understand how serious this is,” Koopman says, growing more impatient as the interview drags on. “The fact that you’re thinking this, in essence, is still a game is pretty scary.”

“You are now doing the worst dishonour out of everyone because you know what?” Koopman continues. “You didn’t want this to happen. If you could take it back, you would. I don’t know if I can say so much about that with your dad. But I know that you would not want that to happen again, and if that if you could go back to that day, you would do something to change it.”

After 2½ hours, Koopman’s tender approach proves fruitless. His replacement in the room, Sgt. Boyles, shakes Hamed’s hand, pulls up a chair, and leans in close. “I’m telling you you killed your three sisters, you understand that?” he says, skipping the small talk. “There’s millions of people in this province. Everything’s pointing to you, your father and your mother.”

In fact, Boyles tells Hamed that in a nearby interrogation room, his mom has just admitted that all three were at the locks the night the Nissan splashed into the water. “I think you have honour, and I think you have the ability to tell the truth to us,” Boyles says. “I don’t think you’re a bad person. Hamed, look at me. I think mistakes were made. You guys came up with a plan and it went bad. You made a lot of mistakes and now you’re caught.”

Like Koopman, he wants the answer to only one question: Why? Why did those four women have to die? “I’m not from your culture,” says Boyles, a tall, stocky blond who easily outweighs Hamed by 100 pounds. “Certain things offend me and certain things are different in my culture than yours, I understand that. What I don’t understand is how does it go this far? What causes this to happen?”

“It’s nothing,” Hamed mumbles.

“Oh, it’s not nothing, Hamed. Three young girls were murdered. Not to leave out Rona, but three of your sisters were murdered. It’s not nothing. It’s very serious.”

“It is very serious,” Hamed agrees. “But I don’t know nothing to help you.”

A few minutes later, Hamed asks—yet again—to view the photos of the dead. “Just for a second,” he says. Boyles refuses.

“I don’t think that everyone that goes to jail is bad,” the sergeant says. “In my opinion, you’re a victim of circumstance, to some degree. I’m not trying to disrespect your father, but your father is a certain type of man. He’s very traditional, from what I understand, and he has certain rules and certain values and he expects certain things from people. And I think he expected certain things from some of your sisters, and I think that wasn’t happening and he dealt with it the wrong way. He dealt with it as a traditionalist, how his culture, how his upbringing has taught him to do. And he’s raised you like that. I’m not going to sit here and tell you your culture’s wrong or our traditions wrong. What I’m here to tell you is what you did in Canada is illegal, and now you have to own up to it. You have to tell us the truth.”

Hamed mumbles something that isn’t audible on the tape.

“You guys aren’t mastermind criminals,” Boyles continues. “You guys aren’t hit men. You guys don’t know how to cover your tracks properly. You don’t know how to get away with things.”

As the clock approaches 3:30 a.m., Hamed asks to go back to his jail cell. “I’m getting a bit of a headache,” he says. “I just want to go.” But before leaving, Boyles pulls out a laptop and plays a short clip from his mom’s interrogation. Beside the computer are the corpse shots that have so transfixed him over the past few hours.

“She saw these pictures?” Hamed asks, referring to his mother.

“Oh yeah,” Boyles says. “She saw them.”

In the clip, a tearful Tooba Yahya, now 41, admits that all three accused were at the fatal scene in the early morning hours of June 30, 2009, but that she fainted after the car plunged into the canal and doesn’t remember anything else. Hamed glares at the screen, showing no reaction as her words fill the room.

“Is your mother lying to us?” Boyles asks. “That’s all I’m asking. I mean, if you’re telling me the truth, Hamed, then your mother must be lying. You know what I like about you? You can’t say that because you respect your mother and you love her, and you know she’s telling the truth. You’re not going to sit here in front of the camera, and me, and call her a liar when you know she’s telling the truth. And I respect that. That’s an honourly, manly thing to do.”

Hamed stands up. “Can I go now?”

The trial, now in a two-day recess, is scheduled to continue Friday morning.


Hamed Shafia: The good son

  1. It is intrinsically important that people who come to live in the country of Canada are semi-educated to uphold the laws of the land in Canada. It is important that they also have a modicum of either speaking English or French and do not import their clan/religion based hatred and archaic, misogynist behaviors to Canada. Otherwise maybe best to stay in their home country and attempt to be pro-active and make their home country a better place to live, and maybe just stay there.

    • I tend to agree but getting all the Irish and Scots out of Canada is not going to be easy.

    • Wait a minute.  We need to educate people not to kill their daughters and their sisters?

      • I’m not sure– I understand your sarcasm but I think you’re question stands as a valid one. Do we need to educate landed citizens in such a way as to modify what our culture obviously views as criminal behavior? Could this have been prevented through education programs? Is this a systemic problem that merits a political response?

  2. I think there is a little talked about issue in this trial which may have a key impact on the jury’s decision. As of yet…there seems to be no physical evidence presented which actually links the defendants to the actual murders themselves.

    From what I’ve read, the forensic people conclude that the victims were all dead before the car was pushed into the lock. So all the evidence collected at the lock itself (broken headlight…cell phone records etc…) would seem not to be evidence of murder because no murder was committed there.

    Where were they actually killed? How? and by whom? So far…I haven’t seen any evidence provided to answer those questions. 

    Could this be enough to cast reasonable doubt in one juror’s mind? 

    • Don
      t be silly – thi guy’s guilty – his story and his mother’s story don’t make sense – she says they were there when the car was pushed  in, he says no. They are both lying murderers. Someone who kills their own children? I’d gladly throw the switch if Canada had the electric chair. But, instead, these evil people will be held at taxpayer expense for a few dozen years then they go free. Ain’t liberals great?

      •  I agree that they’re guilty, but your Texas-style justice leaves much to be desired. So yes, liberals are indeed great, and we should be thankful for their influence on the justice system.

        • By giving these animals a six month vacation at the expense of the taxpayer, you “liberals” sanction this violence against women.  Basically, being a liberal means standing by while the innocent die in fear, and the guilty go free to murder more women for their pleasure.  But at least you get to make snarky comments about Texas.  How dare those drawling morons hang a coward for killing a woman–it’s so culturally insensitive!

          • Ohh, big talking Conservative: and so just what did you do to stop this?  Post here after the fact?  Brave of you.  Seems to me you stood by too, cuz those poor girls are all dead.  How could the conservative immigration reps fail to identify the man had two wives; how did the conservative cops and conservative social workers fail to act when the eldest girl reported the violence in her home? 

      • Conservatives means fundamentalists. They ask their emotion for help….

    • Only if the jurors are the same as in the Casey Anthony trial.

  3. Maybe Hamed should be told about what happend to the brother who did the ‘honour’ killing of his sister and her fiance in Ottawa in 2006.  The victims mother’s words:
    “The most compelling question, though, and always the most elusive, is why?” Fayaz wrote. “In this instance, why were two clean-living, law-abiding young people so shockingly removed from this world? Can anyone convincingly answer this question?”
    “Sometimes we describe this as the struggle between good and evil. I prefer to describe it as the struggle between education and ignorance,” she wrote.
    “In the end, perhaps ignorance can only be defeated by confronting itself. Our family appeals to anyone who may be caught up in such a situation as this. Think. Think hard and think again. The taking of another person’s life is an act of utter finality. No power on earth can reopen the door just closed.”

  4. Perhaps the women  here were lured individually into a motel bathroom and drowned. Then they were transported to the locks..
    In the Middle East the honour killing is often carried out by an under aged male so the sentence will be lighter. The mother in this case is as much to blame but the her male relatives may take the fall thus allowing her to go free and look after the remaining children and family  assets.
    Honour is Afghanistan is of such importance that someone like the father feels he has the right to do this.
    A major flaw in our immigration process is that we do not make sure that the individuals we allow in don’t go through psychological testing or some sort of assimilation program.  Coming in with cash to start a business should not be the only reason we let people in. The cost of the trial and the twenty five years we will have to support these people in jail plus looking after their other children will totally offset what monies they brought into this economy.

    Naturally too, if we allow people in from areas that are decades behind in  how they deal with women we are going to have these problems. As women who come here, at whatever age, learn  quickly that they have rights and this is not a patriarchal society. They go to school..read the newspapers, talk to other women and pick up on the cultural norms.

    Unfortunately, they don’t realize that though our society says this is how women can behave etc etc..we do not have the resources to protect them.

    • We also don’t have the resources to imprison these people for life; I do indeed hope we ship them back to Afghanny asap once found guilty.  To live with their own people who believe as they do.

      • No they won’t ship them back until their sentences are over. I am assuming that they have not got their citizenship yet. If in 25 years the laws are the same as today they will be shipped back then

        • That is unfortunate, and a very big bill for murderers who just arrived here.  I guess the conservative immigration squad had better pull up their conservative pants and pay more attention to the people we are bringing here. 

    • What do you mean by “they” and “us”. I am an Afghan, I pay tax, you shouldn’t be talking like that about all Afghans. Hey how about your background… Italian, Irish or scotish? Why don’t you go back there and live happily ever after. Prison is full of all these criminal of different background why do you pay them to stay….

  5. Islam, the religion of peace, strikes again.  Ninth century savages…

    • Hmm, well I’m pretty sure that Pickton, Bundy, Bernardo, Homolka, and many many others aren’t muslim.  But I do wish we’d not immigrate horrendous cultural practices here.  Poor little girls.

      • I don’t recall the lovelies you list committing their crimes as religious and cultural obligations.  But you go right ahead and excuse honour killings on the basis that sometimes other people commit crimes, too.

        • I”m not excusing them.  I”m just pointing out that murderers are generally insane; the form their insanity takes is just different in different cases.  And it all of those cases above, they murderers really hated and disrespected women.  So why does it have to be all on religion and not on misogyny?  That’s the common thread between all the murderers I listed, including the so-called honour killings.

          • No, murderers are generally NOT insane. The ones who are – such as the Greyhound bus murderer, who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia – are the rare exception, not the rule. Many if not most murderers are sociopaths, but that is considered to be a personality disorder, not a mental illness.

  6. Isn’t it fantastic that we let people like this into our countries/ you can thank the Democrats for that, and the left – starting with Kennedy. The fact that these people were taking jobs from the poor already here meant nothing to power hungry Democrats – rather destroy the African American family, suborn their leaders to put party over community, and do whatever else is needed to get power. That’s todays corrupt Democratic party – an institution premised on corruption, existing on corruption and financed through public unions funneling of taxpayer funds.

    One day the Democratic party will have a reckoning for its crimes against African Americans – for slavery, Jim Crow, the KKK, the destruction of the black family after the civil rights era and the criminalization of the community –

    And this crime too can be laid at the feet of Democratic influence over the border.

    • Evil libruls strike again!

      • Judging by your sarcasm, I take it you approve of Jim Crow, slavery, and the Klan?  I have thought that Democrats should adopt a motto:  Democrats–Supporting Slavery Since 1861

  7. Trying to get the truth out of Hamed is a fool’s errand, since the Koran teaches that it is perfectly acceptable in the eyes of Allah for a Muslim to lie to an unbeliever.  Having Muslims for neighbors and expecting them to behave like Westerners is like trying to domesticate grizzlies.

  8. And to think that this goes on in the name of Islam all over the world every day?  If this had taken place in an Islamic country it wouldn’t even be an outrage, it would just be a normal every day event and the police, if they didn’t openly condone it, would just ignore it.  How many times in a period of a year do we read about this happening in the U.S. or Canada or Europe because a woman dares to dress in Western style clothes or date someone?  This is Islam, and I will believe that until I see Islamic religous leaders publicly ordering it to stop, and Islamic political leaders taking action to stop it.  I respect people’s freedom and choice regarding religion, but I do not and will not respect a religion that condones this and treats women the way Islam allows them to be treated, and murdered all over the world!

  9. Isn’t ANYBODY going to stand up and call this atrocity for what it is???  Islam oppresses women to the point that murdering them is regarded as an honourable thing.  THAT is barbaric and disgusting. Where is the denunciation of this revolting practice?  Where are the voices of Canadian women against this lethal violence. 

    • Canadian women have been protesting domestic violence for years now….where have YOU been?

      • Marching down the street topless to protest the misogyny in Grand Theft Auto is not really protesting domestic violence the same as standing up to honour killings.  In fairness, if you were to try to stand against honour killings, liberals would have you dragged in front of the Human Rights Commission so fast your head would spin.  So no, Canadian women have never protested these crimes for fear of the repercussions from liberals and the Human Rights Gestapo, er, I mean Commission.  Whether the failure to stand up is cowardly or practical is for you to decide.

        • Women here have been fighting domestic violence for years with shelters, with advocacy and with a change in the laws.

          Where have you been?

      • Domestic violence and “honour killings” are not the same thing. Where is domestic violence condoned, and even encouraged, the way “honour killings” are? In what other belief system are “honour killings” acceptable? What other religion instructs its followers to  kill in the name of “honour”?

        If I was in charge of immigration policies in this country, I would not allow even one more muslim into Canada. The only immigrants I would allow from islamic nations are those who are being persecuted and murdered for their beliefs, ie: Christians, Zoroastrians, Bahai’s.  These people should be welcome here. Immigrants whose ideologies are antithetical to ours, who will never integrate, whose stated aim is to take over the world for islam, should never be welcome in Canada. 

        • Yes, they are exactly the same thing.

          Both are meant to control women.

          And some men feel it ‘disrespects’ them as men, or as the ‘head of the family’ if the wife doesn’t have a meal ready on time, or argues with them, or he suspects her of seeing another man….so he beats her…or kills her.

          Happens every day in our society.

          And it used to be ignored as a ‘private matter’….no charges were laid, and everyone looked the other way.

          Both Jews and Christians state in the Bible that a man has a right to beat a woman, and that she is to be subservient to a man.

          It’s only recently we’ve began to clean up our own act, so we have no moral leg to stand on lecturing others.

          If you need to hate something, hate ignorance.

    • I agree; I’m a woman and I am talking out against this as misogyny and supreme hatred of women.  And if we approached it that way instead of tip toeing around religions, we would get a whole lot further (and feel freer to speak out).

  10. When presented the argument that the British should respect India’s culture of violence toward women, Charles James Napier is reported to have said:

    “Be it so. This burning of widows is your custom; prepare the funeral pile. But my nation has also a custom. When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property. My carpenters shall therefore erect gibbets on which to hang all concerned when the widow is consumed. Let us all act according to national customs.”

    Sadly, the Canadian cutom is to accommodate these criminals on cultural grounds and have the Human Rights Commission prosecute (persecute?) their critics. 

    • Cool, but still a little hard on the women.  Why wait until they’re dead to ensure immigrants follow local cultural customs.  Dear little customs like NOT killing daughters.  Oh cripes, why do they even want to come here?

  11. debate, no debate…opinion, no opinion…..whatever the case may be, it just sickens me that four lives were taken for “honour”, call me naive, call me a fool, but four lives were taken for “honour”

  12. I totally agree with melodytime.

  13. Feed these three  bastards to the lions at the zoo.

  14. It looks like the son is prepared to take the fall for his parents!!!! If the plan works only he will go to jail and his parents won’t…don’t fall for it!!!!

  15. Trying to cajole a confession out of this scum by shaking his hand and treating him in a friendly manner is sickening and does not appear to be working.  He knows that by admitting to nothing he has deniability and that there is no sincerity in the overtures of the police interrogators. There must be more effective tactics in the playbook they could try.

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