“I would be a dead woman” - Macleans.ca

“I would be a dead woman”

Sahar Shafia was desperate to keep her boyfriend a secret—but her alleged “honour killers” already knew


In one photo, Sahar Shafia and Ricardo Sanchez are cuddling on a living room chair, her arm wrapped around his. In another, snapped outside, Sahar is smiling in a pair of sunglasses, his hand resting on her stomach. The backgrounds change—parks, restaurants, sidewalks—but the poses rarely do. Some of the shots show only Sanchez, hat backwards.

Police found all the pictures, and dozens more, stored on Sahar’s cell phone, recovered from the same underwater car that contained all four dead bodies. Weeks later, detectives armed with a search warrant found printouts of those very same shots inside the Shafias’ Montreal home. Some were zipped into her brother’s suitcase, packed for an overseas trip. Two, depicting only her boyfriend, were stuffed in the centre console of her father’s Lexus.

“Do you have any idea how these photos ended up in a suitcase belonging to Hamed Shafia?” Gerard Laarhuis, one of the prosecutors, asked Sanchez.

“No,” he answered.

“Do you have any explanation as to how these ended up in the Lexus owned by Mr. Shafia?” he asked.


The answer, of course, is self-evident: police seized the phone as soon as it was fished from the Rideau Canal, which means the photos found at the house must have been developed before the car plunged into the Kingston Mills Locks. As hard as she tried to keep her romance a secret, it appears that Sahar’s mom, dad and brother—now charged with four counts each of first-degree murder—knew exactly what she was up to.

The 17-year-old was found on June 30, 2009, floating inside a sunken Nissan Sentra beside two of her sisters (Zainab, 19, and Geeti, 13) and their father’s first wife in the polygamous clan, Rona Amir Mohammad. According to prosecutors, what was staged to look like a tragic car accident was in fact a quadruple “honour kill” meant to restore the Afghan family’s reputation, tarnished by the girls’ Westernized, rebellious behaviour. As their father declared on one police wiretap: “They betrayed Islam, they betrayed our religion and creed, they betrayed our tradition, they betrayed everything.”

All three suspects—Shafia, a 58-year-old millionaire businessman; Tooba Yahya, his second wife; and Hamed, their eldest son—have pleaded not guilty.

On Wednesday, his second day in the witness box, Sanchez provided the jury with more details about his four-month relationship with Sahar, including the bruises he once noticed on her left leg and right arm. “I asked her what had happened to her,” he said, speaking through a Spanish interpreter. “She said that she had hit herself, that she had fallen at school. I said it didn’t look like a bruise from a fall.”

“What did it look like to you?” Laarhuis asked.

“It looked like a blow, like when somebody hits you,” he said. “I told her to tell me the truth. She kept saying: ‘No, I fell, I fell.’ ”

Now 23, Sanchez was a newly arrived immigrant from Honduras when Zainab, a classmate, introduced him to her younger sister. They could barely communicate (his French was not much stronger than hers), but Sanchez says he and Sahar immediately fell in love. Their plan, he testified, was to run away from her family and get married in his home country.

During cross-examination, Yahya’s lawyer, David Crowe, asked Sanchez how his parents would have reacted to having a Muslim daughter-in-law.

“My parents’ reaction would have been a normal reaction,” he said. “Our religion, as Christians, is not as strong as the Muslin religion. It is a religion that is normal. I know Christ, and I know that my parents would not have asked her to convert to the Christian religion. Why would they?”

Throughout his testimony, Sanchez admitted that he didn’t know specific details about Sahar’s home life, other than her strict curfew (8 p.m.) and her desire to hide him from her parents. But Irma Medina, Sanchez’s aunt, said Sahar confided in her on numerous occasions, explaining exactly what life was like for a teenage Shafia girl. “She told me that she would be a dead woman if her parents learned that she was going out with Ricardo,” Medina testified. “They would kill her.”

Once, Medina said, Sahar told her she was going to admit the truth to her mom and dad. “She told me she was going to be a dead woman if she talked to her parents about her relationship with Ricardo,” Medina said, repeating that line again and again. “But she said she was going to do it because she loved him would love him until death.”

Also Wednesday, the jury heard from another employee of “Batshaw Youth and Family Centres,” Quebec’s Anglophone child protection agency. In May 2008, almost a year before Sahar met Sanchez, her vice-principal filed a complaint on her behalf. Evelyn Benayoun was the intake worker who took the phone call that afternoon, and she spoke to both the vice-principal and Sahar. Just days earlier, Sahar had swallowed a handful of pills in a failed suicide attempt.

“She said her home situation was psychologically unbearable,” Benayoun testified. “She couldn’t take it anymore and that was the reason she wanted to commit suicide.”

In her report, Benayoun documented Sahar’s long list of complaints: Forced to wear the hijab. Physical abuse at the hands of her brother. Emotional abandonment. “Her mother wasn’t talking to her and none of her siblings were allowed to speak to her,” she told the jury. “When I initially asked what she wanted, she said: ‘I want my mother to speak to me.’ ”

Benayoun was concerned enough to classify the complaint as a “Code 1,” dispatching a worker to the school the same day. “She told me she was extremely scared, specifically because she wasn’t allowed to share family information with outsiders,” Benayoun said. “She knew she was doing that, and she was scared of the repercussions.”

As the jury has already heard, Sahar backtracked as soon as the social worker arrived. Sobbing uncontrollably, she said she just wanted to go home and that everything she claimed over the phone wasn’t true. Two days later, the social worker met her again. Sahar was wearing a hijab and insisting that “things were better.” She was 16.

Today—November 30—would have been Geeti’s 16th birthday.


“I would be a dead woman”

  1. This story breaks my heart. How did such a misogynist as her father get through immigration? Makes me sympathise with the woman who tore off that other woman’s face covering at the mall the other week.

    • It makes you sympathize against a woman who was drunk that physically assaulted another out in front of her own children of discrimination and hate? Your saying if I don’t like what your wearing and don’t agree with you I have the right to rip it off and put you down? FYI the woman who wore the “face covering” was actually far more educated and well to do than the woman who committed the assault.

      I don’t understand why this whole case seems to connect religion more than the culture, cause if you look at his wive(s) they didn’t seem to wear a veil and they themselves don’t seem like some sort of hardcore religious fanatics, notice he doesn’t even have the typical beard. I think its more to do with some twisted culture than anything else, which you seem to confuse and show your deep-seeded discrimination by being “sympathetic” against a woman who assault another out of hate.

      • You’re absolutely right. This is all about culture, and less about religion. I would encourage anyone who is reading this and doesn’t believe me to do their own research. “Honour-killings” of this kind (or any kind) are expressly forbidden in Islam. There is no wiggle room.

        However, these traditions (from culture), which existed before Islam, are very difficult to leave behind for many. If this case turns out to be as it seems, it would be an example of this.

        As a Muslim, I truly am heartbroken whenever I read new developments in this story. No person should ever go through what is alleged here. It is such a tragedy that there are other young people out there in similar situations. How could a parent think that the best way to teach their family values, whatever those may be, would be such close-minded heartlessness rather than trying to be a guiding light, a source of inspiration and an example?

        /my 2 cents

    • i dont understand how you just connected a monster  murdering his own child to that of a moron and her act of hate. 

  2. dumb religious fanatics…. religion that KILLS PEOPLE… brainwashed fathers who would rather defend islam to look good in the eyes of other men, than love their daughters and share their happiness. their religion is all about hiding true emotions and no free will…

    • You’re really a moron, how’s he defending Islam? Islam explicitly prohibits something like that, how do you even know that he’s religiously motivated, seems more like he’s more interested in his “honor” than anything else.

      Hitler an atheist, killed millions of Jews and “non-aryans”, the USSR and Chinese governments executed hundreds of thousands of people who associated themselves with religion and dissent, by your logic atheism “kills people”.

    • There are abusive authoritarian parents in every religion.  If, as accused, these 3 killed the 4 women they should be tried for the act not their beliefs.

    • plz just read about ISLAM it nothing like this if u find me one verse in QURAN or holy book just tell me and i will leave ISLAM

    •  As a muslim woman to me this story is clearly and I think solely about culture rather than religion. These two parallels are truly hard to be distinctive to some muslims that come from other countries where old cultural practices are intertwined in Islam. This is not Islam, and it breaks my heart that “muslims” do these things, and it also breaks my heart because people get the wrong perception about Islam.

  3. Whether religion or culture; there are practices or traditions from those parts of the world that are absolutely unacceptable here in a diverse democracy that recognizes individual freedom and self determination. They are numerous, & include such things as honor killings & female sexual mutilation. I think the answer as to how the father got through immigration is revealed by the statement that he was a “millionaire”. Is there not a list of practices for would-be immigrants informing them of traditions that are deemed unacceptable in Canada? In another less horrific incident; there is online a video that went ‘viral’, as they say, of a young man working at a KFC outlet who went ballistic when a customer arrived at the counter & asked for bacon with their order.

    • That “viral” video you are referring to has been widely used to fuel misconceptions by people like you. 

      A KFC spokesperson said of the incident “a customer became angry after being refused bacon (The location in question does not serve bacon) and then directed offensive language and became abusive towards the team member according to witnesses that were there” 

      Funny how the video doesn’t show what happens before hand, but yet you’ve come up with a conclusion

      • Ja,  I thank you for correcting me. I mean that. It is never my intention to falsely accuse someone of anything. I paid too little attention to the details, & stand corrected.

  4. If these people do not want to adapt and live as Canadians they should stay in their home country. We do not need to have this country go backwards and have women treated as second class citizens again. Their beliefs and culture do not fit into Canadian society. As soon as they get here they expect us to change our laws and society to accomodate them. This would never happen if we went to their country. In 50 years or so there will be more of them than us and then they will make all the changes they want and they will control this country. I fear for my grandchildren. Our government has allowed this to happen and they are caving in to all of their demands.This is WRONG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Who are the “they” and who are the “we” in your statement MORE OF THEM THAN US? For  your sake I hope that you are of the TURTLE ISLAND FIRST NATIONS…otherwise YOU ARE THE THEM of whom you speak so CONTEMPTUOUSLY!

  5. This case is 100% about religion.  The parents were taught that moral edicts should be physically enforced through criminal law in Afghanistan.  Here we still try to do the same with prostitution.  Take a look at the Pickton inquiry.  Making “transgressions” of religious edicts punishable in the Criminal Code dehumanizes…women.  No longer homosexuals in Canada, thank God. 

  6. It is very sad to see all the comments saying that these murders were about religion and slamming the Islam faith.  It was not Islam or any religion that killed these 4 beautiful women.  It was three human beings with their own twisted belief system that (very likely) carried out this crime.  Let’s place the blame where it belongs, and not generalize it to include millions of people whom you know nothing about, and probably never wil,l because you are not interested in learning facts.  

    I guess many of you have never heard the quote “it is better to say nothing and appear stupid, then to open your mouth (or touch your keyboard) and remove all doubt.”

    • Unfortunately I know only too much about Islamic fanaticism. My question is why are these people not choosing Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Pakistan and other countries where Sharia is applied.
      Islamic traditions are inspired from the stone age Bedouin culture of Mecca and Medina.  Look at the Saudi women: They are still fighting for the right to vote and drive a car while the Saudi men are taking flight charters for sex tourism in Thailand! All that under the watch of the religious police. Finally: beating women is allowed in Islam. If you want citations, we will find them for you.

      • I think you are missing the simple point…. I am speaking of WHO is to blame for the deaths of these  4 beautiful human beings.   Islam,  the religion, did NOT kill these women.  Their family members did. 

        Islamic fanaticism as you said,  is just that, fanaticism.  It is not the entire Islamic religion.  You can’t place the blame on millions of believers for a few fanatics actions.  Every single religion in the world has their fanatics. 

        • You said it yourself.  When religious fanatics rule the day and keep religious moral edicts in the Criminal Law of the country, women are systemically dehumanized, just as prostitutes are in Canada because of our archaic “Christian” laws which were put in place so that a few could rule the majority.  No matter what guise of religion bullies use, it’s simply a power play.  The Shafia parents called their daughters a blight on Islam because they were taught systemically that religious moral edicts are not up to God but man to enforce.  Whether you think Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, Iran, etc., is wrong or right, that’s up to you.  Personally I think it is a mistake to give police officers control over morality.  But there are many countries that say what you and I do not like and that is the reality.

      •  Lynda:

        No where in Sharia law does it say “kill your daughters if they disobey or ruin the honour of your house hold” These are in no way “Islamic Traditions” as quoted… and nor are they from the “stone age Bedouin culture of Mecca and Medina” I think it is truly wrong for individuals to be spreading information about a faith or religion they do not know about, and even different cultures they do not know about. It is especially wrong to fuse these two parallels of culture and religion as one.

  7. Many of us came to this great country seeking peace and freedom. Many of us escaped the same monsters that a too generous Canadian system is not able to stop from spreading their hatred to love and beautiful things.
    Imagine that only few years ago we were so close of seeing the Sharia Law implemented in Ontario! What would have been the next step? To allow  the Shafia’s of the world to publicly hang their girls for living the normal life of a Canadian teenage?

    • Lynda:

      Canada is a FREE country. In the charter of rights you are allowed the right and freedom of RELIGION. Just wanted to point that out. Also NO WHERE in Sharia law does it say or allow muslims to “hang their girls for living the normal life of a Canadian teenager” as quoted. Muslims live in Canada and obey the laws of Canada (most) but that doesnt mean muslims are to abide to the “normal life of Canadians” everyone is aloud to live in Canada as a free country but does NOT have to live “life as a normal Canadian” This is where it gets really tricky and really confusing. Just trying to clarify that.

      – A muslim teenage girl living in Canada. 

  8. This is horror story for me.. I almost broke into tears when she said ‘she just want her mother to talk to her’…. family is our pride and when something wrong happened to us outside the box, we confide into family, for emotional support and love and care. But this gave me goose bumps imaginign myself in this kind of environment. May the departed souls Rest in Peace !!!