The Shafia honour killing trial–Chapter 1

Get the full story, plus, documents, video and audio evidence that brought the murderers to justice with the Macleans ebook edition

The Honour Killing Trial - Chapter 1

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FOR THE COMPLETE STORY OF THE HONOUR KILLING TRIAL:
On the ebook in the Maclean’s magazine iPad app – Get the full story, plus, a week-by-week account by award-winning reporter Michael Friscolanti, as well as documents, video and audio evidence from the Kingston courtroom, and the heartbreaking diary of Rona, Shafia’s first wife and one of his victims.
Or download our 10-chapter series detailing how the case unfolded. 

The police diver who swam to the bottom of the canal found Zainab Shafia in the front passenger seat, her face slumped forward, her fingernails painted a light shade of blue. She was 19 years old and had 10 cents in her pocket. Her black cardigan, drenched after hours underwater, was on backwards.

Sahar, her younger sister, was in the rear of the sunken Nissan Sentra, dressed in a pair of tight jeans and a sleeveless top. Her belly button was pierced (a stud with twin stones) and her nails were polished two different colours: purple on the fingers, black on the toes. As always, the stylish 17-year-old was within reach of her cellphone—about to become a crucial clue for investigators above.

Geeti’s lifeless body was floating over the driver’s seat, one arm wrapped around the headrest, the window beside her wide open. Like Sahar—the big sister she idolized—Geeti had a navel ring underneath her brown shirt. Detectives would later find a note she had scribbled to Sahar, full of hearts and red ink: “i WiSH 2 GOD DAT TiLL iM ALIVE I’LL NEVER SEE U SAD!” She was 13.

Rona Amir Mohammad was slouched in the middle back seat, her soaked black hair rubbing against Sahar’s. At 52, she was the eldest of the dead: the girls’ supposed “auntie,” but in fact their dad’s first wife in a secretly polygamous Afghan clan. The day she drowned, Rona put on a blue shirt, three pairs of earrings, and six gold bangles. She was not wearing a seatbelt. None of them were.

It was June 30, 2009, the morning before Canada Day. Det.-Const. Geoff Dempster was supposed to work the afternoon shift, two ’til midnight, but his cellphone rang a few hours early. A colleague in the major crimes unit briefed him about the car full of corpses at the Kingston Mills locks, and asked him to come in as soon as possible. A few minutes after he arrived at police headquarters, three people showed up at the front counter to file a missing persons report: Mohammad Shafia, the girls’ father, Tooba Mohammad Yahya, their mother, and Hamed Shafia, their 18-year-old brother.

Dempster, a veteran cop with short blond hair and a rookie’s face, spent most of that Tuesday shift interviewing mom, dad and son, assuming, at first, that they were grieving relatives devastated to learn that their loved ones were gone. Their initial stories, videotaped for accuracy, were essentially the same. Wealthy Muslim family. Recent immigrants to Canada. Road trip to Niagara Falls, the 10 vacationers split between the Sentra and a silver Lexus SUV. Shafia, Tooba and Hamed all told the detective that they had stopped at a Kingston, Ont., motel on the way home to Montreal, and that Zainab grabbed the car keys to retrieve some clothes. The next morning, the Nissan—and nearly half the family—were gone. “That’s it,” Shafia said. “I don’t know anything else.”

But that was hardly it, as the detective soon realized. The more questions Dempster asked, the stranger their story sounded. Why would these women, after a six-hour road trip from Niagara Falls, pile into the Nissan for a middle-of-the-night joyride? Why did an eyewitness tell on-scene investigators that he saw two cars at the water’s edge that night? And why did the Shafias show up at the station in a green minivan—not the silver Lexus they were driving during the vacation?

Hamed, not a tear in sight, told the detective that he didn’t actually sleep at the motel with the rest of his family. Instead, he climbed back behind the wheel of the Lexus at two o’clock in the morning and continued toward Montreal, more than 300 km away. “I forgot my laptop,” he explained. He was home for only a few minutes, he said, when his dad phoned to tell him the girls were missing.

“How come you came back in the Pontiac?” Dempster asked, referring to the minivan.

“No special reason,” Hamed answered, mumbling about how the Lexus “takes more gas and fuel and stuff like that.”

“The reason for coming back in the Pontiac and not the Lexus was because it’s better on gas?” Dempster pressed.

“Well, that’s one of the reasons.”

“What would be another reason?”

“Nothing, uh, big,” Hamed replied. “Nothing, ya know, that’s worth telling.”

What police discovered over the next three weeks would tell a story so chilling, so unthinkable to most Canadians, that the resulting trial captivated the country like few crimes ever have. Mother, father, and eldest son—motivated by an ancient, barbaric “honour” code—used their Lexus to smash that Nissan over the lip of the Rideau Canal, watching with perverted satisfaction as all four females vanished into the water. “I am happy and my conscience is clear,” Shafia proclaimed the night before his arrest, unaware that a police wiretap was recording his every word. “They haven’t done good and God punished them.”

Today, a different punishment looms: life behind bars. After four months, 58 witnesses, and too many lies to count, a jury found Shafia, Tooba and their beloved Hamed guilty of quadruple murder in the first degree. It took just 15 hours of deliberation for the jurors to reach their verdict.

The evidence, utterly heartbreaking, left no real doubt about the truth. Before they died, the Shafia sisters were caught in the ultimate culture clash, living in Canada but not allowed to be Canadian. They were expected to behave like good Muslim daughters, to wear the hijab and marry a fellow Afghan. And when they rebelled against their father’s “traditions” and “customs”—covertly at first, then for all the community to see—the shame became too much to bear. Only a mass execution (staged to look like a foolish wrong turn) could wash away the stain of their secret boyfriends and revealing clothes.

Rona, it turns out, was simply a convenient throw-in, the infertile first wife who died as she lived. An afterthought.

“They committed treason from beginning to end,” Shafia declared, during another one of his intercepted rants. “They betrayed kindness, they betrayed Islam, they betrayed our religion and creed, they betrayed our tradition, they betrayed everything.”

His daughters died because they were defiant and beautiful and had dreams of their own. Because they were considered property, not people. But the two words at the heart of this sensational case—“honour killing”—do not tell the whole twisted tale. What happened on that pitch-black night is also a story about cries for help that were missed or ignored. About sibling rivalry and family snitches. About young love and old-fashioned police work.

And it’s a story about a custom-built courtroom, where father, mother—but not son—took the stand to proclaim their innocence.

Read the full ebook edition of the Shafia honour killing trial, available for purchase in the Maclean’s iPad app.
Or download the complete story as PDF.




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The Shafia honour killing trial–Chapter 1

  1. The article says the youngest was 13, but the headstones show two of the girls born same day in 1990 and one in 1989. I suppose I should ask myself why I would be think anyone in this family would ever notice. Or care.

    • You are right — they do both show the same birthday, same year (although both stones say 1991, not 1990) but good catch.

      So…what company did the stones?  I think they need to do a correction on Geeti’s.  They were so failed in life; please let them at least have their correct identities in death!

      • please do not muddy these turbulant waters with sentiment.  Please pay attention to what is happening to the women that are in same or similar situation.  The dead are beyond our help; but the living still need us.  I have not heard much from the different womens’ groups in their efforts to try to prevent such a tragedy from being played out again. 

    •  The answer is in the very last sentence of Chapter 10 in MacLean’s magazine. [Quote]” 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 Sahr’s birth-date, not hers.” [/quote]

      • Thank you for telling us.  Doesn’t that just make tragic even moreso? 

        •  Patchouli, it broke my heart to read it. The ones who failed to watch out for them in life continue their neglect after death. They are all in the arms of God now, their lives on earth cut short by the shameful acts of their kin. May they all rest in peace.

  2. the title says chapter 1 of 10  does this include a chapter saying how in nust a few short years. when sharia law is demanded in many areas of canada. this will be more open and common place.?  it should.

  3. What’s as equally disturbing as murdering one’s family because they didn’t conform to moral notions transplanted from the Old Country. I’m going to suggest intellectual and moral dishonesty on the part of our fair Canadian society: Doing the right thing, but not for the reason we said. After all, other murderers in Canada get less time. Why is our condemnation so uniform and absolute? Why are we so righteous about the outcome of the trials? I really do think there’s something else at play. And for the record, not racism (someone is bound to go for the easy explanation).

    • Well, what?  And what others convicted of first degree murder got less time? 

      • You again. Your comments are so soapy and predictable. I’m really bored and wary of any exchanges involving you.

        • Can’t answer the questions, eh?  Figures.

    • Bull-bleep. Show me one single Canadian who, in a position of parental/familial trust, committed 4 1st degree murders of their wife, daughters or sisters, got a lesser sentence. Esteban, you are an ill-informed idiot.

      • What are you, stupid? Who said anything about other commissions of murder that is exactly like this one? Murder is murder, plain and simply. First degree murder of children is the same thing as first degree murder of the elderly is the same thing as first degree murder of men, or women. Which is part of the point, CottonEyeJoe. So when we see murder of any sort, it should always be shocking and sad. Except that is not really exactly the case, no matter how much we try to pretend it is: Some murders elicit more pathos that other murders.

        •  Quit avoiding the question you moron. Give us one single example of anyone who has received a lighter sentence for the same crime.

          And for the record, 1st degree murder by a family member is not the same as 1st degree murder by a non-family member. When someone is in a position of trust over someone they murder, the courts have always held that the crime is more heinous. But then, you clearly have little knowledge of the law, so I’m sure you will continue to think that you are smarter than you purport to be. Facts trump opinion, my close-minded friend. Don’t bother responding unless you are prepared to give us the example requested. Or do you plan to keep blowing smoke out your ass?

          • “And for the record, 1st degree murder by a family member is not the same as 1st degree murder by a non-family member.” What is this? Two different classes of first degree murder? I know enough about the law to know that the law, and importantly, justice presumes no passion. Go back to reading the Toronto Star.

          • Still blowing smoke I see! *lol*  Yes, sad-sack, there are different sentences for different degrees of 1st degree murder. Yes, 4 murders are worse than one. Gawd you’re dumb! Your knowledge of the law is as abysmal as your lack of common sense.

            Sad that you’re not a man of your convictions and can’t answer such a simple question: “Quit avoiding the question you moron. Give us one single example of
            anyone who has received a lighter sentence for the same crime.” But then, you’re pretty much what I expected. Can’t back up your claim. I’ve seen a lot of your type in my life. Speak in innuendoes, with no facts to support. Run along now. You’ve lost the game that you were totally unequipped to compete in. *lol*

    •  I agree that murder is murder, however, the motives for murder seem to be love, money or revenge.  Having said that, most of these murders happen in the heat of emotion.  In these cases, there is little or no time to think of the act, stop the action or the consequences. That is taken in consideration.  Those found guilty of carefully planning and executing a murder such as in intance receive the full weight of the law. In these cases, there is time to consider the illegality of the act.  The judge did voice his outrage at the crime, just as he voiced his outrage when he sentenced a grandmother for starving her grandchild to death.  This sentence was also 20+ years.

  4. These four beasts deserved  what they got. Is it life for each victim?

    • Sorry! The 3 beasts  desrved what they got. Hope they rot in jail!!

  5. there is no honor in killing under any circumstance;for any reason.  I am glad that the jury was able to see through the religious and cultural retoric and see these deaths for what they were – murder. 

  6. The Maclean’s
    report on the Shafia murders has taken the opportunity – when thousands of
    other women are hurt and killed every day by their families, partners, and
    others – to narrate a profoundly racist story of fatal pre-modernity and the
    “ultimate culture clash” between “real Canadians” and
    “Muslims.” As Sherene Razack notes, although in the year 2001
    alone, sixty-seven women in Canada were killed by their partners or
    ex-partners, “we do not, in these instances, refer to culture [or religion] as
    the root of the problem” (pg. 142, 2008).

    Just because
    you decry the murder of these girls, whose Westernization endears them to you, this
    does not make the February 13th spread any less an example of race
    thinking – a pervasive pattern of thought that divides up the world
    between the deserving and the undeserving, according to descent. It is disheartening yet fully predictable
    to see this exploitation of a tragedy for your own race pleasure, what Anthony
    Farley describes as a pleasure in one’s own superiority (ie. Maclean’s take
    that “Most Canadians” would find a story about misogyny “unthinkable” pg. 40)
    and the other’s abjection (and the magazine’s implicit claim to authentic
    Canadian authorship: “Mother, father, and eldest son – motivated by an ancient,
    barbaric “honour” code…caught in the ultimate culture clash” p. 40).

    Facile policies of multiculturalism try to imagine what
    harmony would mean between racialized groups and the unmarked, ascendant
    whiteness that is fantasized as originary to Canada, but they fail to conceive
    of the heterogeneity of interests within
    racialized communities and how to foster women’s strategies that promote their
    value and safety within their communities.

     

    So we would all do well to ask: what does this particular
    narrative of the Shafia case accomplish? Why this attention to violence against
    women? Why in conjunction with religion and “non-Canadian” culture? Why now?

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    –The
    Maclean's report on the Shafia murders has taken the opportunity – when
    thousands of other women are hurt and killed every day by their families,
    partners, and others – to narrate a profoundly racist story of fatal
    pre-modernity and the "ultimate culture clash" between "real
    Canadians" and "Muslims." As
    Sherene Razack notes, although in the year 2001 alone, sixty-seven women in
    Canada were killed by their partners or ex-partners, “we do not, in these
    instances, refer to culture [or religion] as the root of the problem” (pg. 142,
    2008).

     

    Just
    because you decry the murder of these girls, whose Westernization endears them
    to you, this does not make the February 13th spread any less an
    example of race thinking – a pervasive pattern of thought that divides
    up the world between the deserving and the undeserving, according to descent. It is disheartening yet fully predictable
    to see this exploitation of a tragedy for your own race pleasure, what Anthony
    Farley describes as a pleasure in one’s own superiority (ie. Maclean’s take
    that “Most Canadians” would find a story about misogyny “unthinkable” pg. 40)
    and the other’s abjection (and the magazine’s implicit claim to authentic
    Canadian authorship: “Mother, father, and eldest son – motivated by an ancient,
    barbaric “honour” code…caught in the ultimate culture clash” p. 40).

     

    Facile policies
    of multiculturalism try to imagine what harmony would mean between racialized
    groups and the unmarked, ascendant whiteness that is fantasized as originary to
    Canada, but they fail to conceive of the heterogeneity of interests within racialized communities and how to
    foster women’s strategies that promote their value and safety within their communities.

     

    So we would all do
    well to ask: what does this particular narrative of the Shafia case accomplish?
    Why this attention to violence against women? Why in conjunction with religion
    and “non-Canadian” culture? Why now?

  8. This is the same problem that is occuring in Afghanistan….The men rule and control the women to the point that they can be whipped or beaten savagely for not obeying…they can be killed as well, if the man decides to do so….We criticize the chinese for their lack of human rights but this arab culture is far worse….I do not see arab people marching in the street to dismantle sharia law because as sick as we all know it is,  those involved cannot or will not see the light….They have become “brainwashed to accept this outrageous behavior”.  

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