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“Where is your honour?”

Under interrogation, Mohammad Shafia insisted that he loved his three dead daughters—but not the cellphone bills


 

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.

Prosecutors have told a jury in Kingston, Ont., that Mohammad Shafia was a tyrant of a father, an Afghan immigrant so obsessed with restoring the “honour” of his family that he drowned his own daughters because they wore make-up and dated boys and had dreams of their own. But during the opening moments of his post-arrest interrogation, broadcast in court for the first time on Wednesday, Shafia looks hardly the menace, slouched in a wooden chair and barely whispering his responses.

Wearing slacks and sandals, he tells the cop on the other side of the table that being slapped in cuffs was a “violation of his right,” that his life is “ruined,” and that the person who really killed his kids “should be found” and punished.

More than half an hour ticks by before the accused mass murderer shows any real emotion. The topic? The cellphone bills that one of his dead daughters racked up.

“Four hundred dollars, three hundred dollars, the bill was coming,” he says, visibly upset. “I said I couldn’t pay it.”

The man asking about the bills, Inspector Shahin Mehdizadeh, is not interested in the dollar figure. He shows Shafia the phone records because they seem to bolster the police’s theory: that he, his wife, Tooba Yahya, and their eldest son, Hamed, massacred three of his daughters (Zainab, 19; Sahar, 17; and Geeti, 13) and his other wife, 53-year-old Rona Amir Mohammad.

“Sahar is talking to her friends every second or sending texts,” the officer tells Shafia. “Perhaps you know her. She was your daughter.”

“Yes, yes,” he answers.

The evening of June 29, 2009, was no exception. The polygamous family of ten—husband, two wives, and seven children—was on its way home from a family vacation in Niagara Falls, piled into two vehicles: a black Nissan Sentra and a silver Lexus SUV. Sitting in one of the cars was Sahar, rifling off text after text to pals back home in Montreal: 7:59 p.m., 8:03 p.m., 8:07 p.m., 8:10 p.m., 8:11 p.m.

“All the time she is using it,” Mehdizadeh says, pointing to the printout.

“She was always using it like that,” her father answers.

At 10:54 p.m., while the clan was stopped at a McDonald’s just east of Toronto, Sahar had a 36-minute conversation with a friend. But when that friend phoned back at 12:25 a.m., nobody picked up. From that moment on, she didn’t respond to another text or answer another call. One of those incoming messages, sent at 1:36 a.m., bounced off a cellphone tower near the Kingston Mills Locks, where the four bodies were discovered the next morning inside the submerged Nissan.

Father, mother and son have all pleaded not guilty to four counts each of first-degree murder. They initially told police that after checking into a Kingston motel for the night, Zainab, the eldest of the doomed sisters, asked for the keys to the Sentra to retrieve some clothes. The next morning, they claimed, she and the others were nowhere to be found.

Prosecutors tell a much more shocking story, alleging that Shafia, Yahya, and Hamed staged what appeared to be a tragic accident in order to restore the family’s Muslim honour, blemished by the girls’ so-called “treacherous” behaviour since arriving in Canada in 2007. By the time Mehdizadeh introduces himself to Shafia on the morning of July 23, 2009, he has already coaxed a quasi-confession out of his wife. The night before, in the same creaky, uncomfortable chair that Shafia now sits, Yahya admitted that the threesome was at the locks when the car splashed into the water, but that she “became unconscious” and doesn’t remember anything else.

“My children, my kids, I loved them with my heart, with my heart,” Shafia tells Mehdizadeh, a Farsi-speaking Mountie dispatched to Kingston for the sole purpose of interviewing the accused “honour killers” in their mother tongue. “They were pure and sinless kids. They were our children.”

The inspector is doesn’t hide his cards. “I want to tell you that we are certain that you, your wife, and Hamed had involvement in the killing of them,” he says, his words subtitled for the jury of seven women and five men. “You are a wise man. I will prove to you that you had planned this.”

Shafia responds with a line that he will repeat over and over for the next two hours: “We don’t lie.” (Except, of course, all the kids not named Hamed, who “told a lot of lies” to a lot of people about the toxic household they lived in and the repeated beatings they endured.)

Along with cellphone records, Mehdizadeh explains exactly what police do when they find a corpse, let alone four: they scour the scene for physical evidence, interview potential witnesses, look for surveillance cameras, and, when a suspect surfaces, plant wiretaps. He then pulls out an overhead photo of the alleged Rideau Canal crime scene. Shafia, now 58, says he recognizes the place. “I came with my wife and put flowers over there.”

Mehdizadeh says that a homeowner who lives on the other side of the water was on his balcony at 2 a.m. on June 30, 2009, and saw two cars, including an SUV with its headlights on. Twenty minutes later, the witness heard a splash and a horn. “My wife loves her children more than herself,” says Shafia, growing more combative by the question. “She loved her children more than me and still does.” Besides, he says, how could they throw four grown people in the water? “They would have screamed.”

Raised in Iran, Mehdizadeh tells his target that he understands the ancient concept of gharait, or honour, and that sometimes when immigrants come to countries like Canada the daughters want “to do this and that, things that are not Islamic, like to have boyfriends or work.” Trying to bait Shafia, he goes so far as to say that Zainab “wasn’t a good girl.” But Shafia doesn’t bite, insisting that he would allow his daughters to choose their own husbands—even that “Pakistani boy” Zainab was seeing. “When people plan to come here [to Canada] they know all these things,” he says. “The boys and girls are in the same school…When you come here, you accept this here.” (The jury has heard otherwise—that Zainab was petrified of her father, banned from leaving the house, and once ran away to a women’s shelter).

Again, Mehdizadeh switches focus, asking about Rona, the eldest of the victims fished from the Nissan. To police—and to immigration authorities—Shafia identified her as a cousin, but in truth, she was his first wife. He only married Tooba Yahya, now his alleged co-conspirator, because Rona could not bear children. Yet even when presented with a wedding photo, Shafia denies that Rona was his bride. “It was her birthday or something,” he says of the picture. “This is not marriage.”

Why were shattered pieces of a Lexus headlight found at the locks? Why was the Nissan’s back bumper dented and scratched? Who used the SUV to push the Sentra into the water? “As much as you want, you can lie to me,” Mehdizadeh says. “But you telling me a lie, it’s not like I will leave this room and say: ‘I am really sorry, please, you can go and continue your life.’ You are here for the murder of four people. Four people. It is not a joke.”

“I know it,” Shafia says.

He also knows, thanks to the inspector, that police installed listening devices in his home and in his third car, a Pontiac mini-van. (In one intercept, Shafia says of his daughters: “May the devil shit on their grave!” In another, he declares that “there is nothing more valuable than our honour.”)

“You are a father,” Mehdizadeh says. “Maybe they were not very good girls, and you might have thought: either they should listen to me or they couldn’t be alive?” He then shows Shafia, one by one, the photos of the dead. “They have told us that you have pushed the car in,” the officer says.

“Why should I do this to my children, for God’s sake?” Shafia responds.

“I am not sitting here to tell you that you have done it or haven’t done it. I know you have done it.”

Shafia laughs.

“I want to know why,” Mehdizadeh says.

“No.”

“I want to know why,” he repeats.

“No.”

“Your own children. Where is your honour?”

“My honour is honour,” Shafia answers.

“You don’t have honour.”

“No, don’t say this word.”

How can a man have honour, and not weep at the sight of his daughters?

“I am upset,” he says. “Crying is not in my control…I had lots of cry…I have suffered so much…I have lost my heart.”

“You haven’t suffered so much because I had been listening to you,” Mehdizadeh says, referring to the wiretaps. “You haven’t suffered so much.”

Shafia doesn’t budge from his story, not an inch. More than once, he taps the inspector’s knee for emphasis.

“Swear to Allah.”

“I don’t tell lie.”

“I am not ashamed in my conscious mind.”

“I wish God would have taken my life and spared their lives. I would have been ready.”

Mehdizadeh has heard enough. He collects the papers on the table and stands up to leave. “A small Nissan car became their grave,” he says, glaring down at Shafia. “Whoever does this, he is a criminal, he is a person who in fact doesn’t have a heart.”

“You are absolutely right,” Shafia answers.

“He is dishonourable,” the inspector says. “He is the worst, dishonourable person in the world.”

“Yes, I agree,” says Shafia. “The worst disrespectful, the worst ill-mannered person in the world.”

Still standing, Mehdizadeh tells Shafia to “remember” those words when his day in court finally comes. “You don’t have even a little honour,” he says, walking toward the door. “The honour of your family is in the hands of your women.”


 

“Where is your honour?”

  1. Well done Inspector Mehdizadeh!!!  Hit the scumbag where it hurts.  In his so called ‘honor’. However, I’ve always thought it had as much to do with money and the fear of being exposed as a tyrant, as his phony honor, if not more so.  All he had to do was cancel their cell phone accounts, not murder them.  Once again it’s clear how little women are revered in that culture.  Interesting that ‘they’ don’t lie but all of his daughters do.  I hope they don’t get protection in prison.  There was no one there to protect those poor women and children.  These 3 are the scum of the earth.  They had better get life! 

  2. This comment was deleted.

    • Unfortunately under their belief system in their Country of Origin a trial would not even be ordered.

    • AMEN to that, Damian. It’s time to tale back control of OUR society and values!

    • Of course the Mountie doing the interrogation and doing his part to bring these criminals to justice is also an immigrant.

      • my reply to that is Welcome to F###ing Canada where EVERYBODY has the same rights. If you don’t like our rules, go back to the craphole you came from!

        • Lol, “your” rules? Care to tell me what makes you so Canadian? Are you born in Canada? If so, were your parents born in Canada? Were your parents, parents born in Canada? The true Canadians are Native Indians who live on a reserve. And to call another country a ‘crap-hole does not make you only sound uneducated but also makes you sound arrogant and ethnocentric. 

          Not all men are like Shafia, and their culture and religion do not teach them their ways, they’re just assholes full of hate, justifying their actions with religion. Just like a lunatic justifies his actions with his own mentality.Before you go bashing other countries, think with an open mind, with sense, and logic. The more hate in this world leads to more idiots like Shafia.

  3. Once he is found guilty, all of his assets should be seized by the government and the three of them should be immediately deported.  I’m all for immigration and for immigrants preserving their culture (ALONGSIDE Canadian culture) but the message needs to be sent that Canada does not tolerate such disrespect of its cultural mores.

    • You’re right. But I don’t think we should say this is ‘culture’. I’m an anthropology student, I have never seen any culture where murder of your own family is a part of culture. These are criminals. Nothing cultural about it.

  4. If convicted :) they will get 3 meals a day, health care , all at the tax payer’s exspense :(  Save us the time and money and do the same to them. They should be put in a yard with a couple of bull moose in heat  once a day until the can tell the truth then put into a car and do the same to them. they are not part of the human race!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • If found guilty, he doesn’t deserve to go to jail.  He doesn’t deserve to be honoured by our laws.  What he deserves is, I know I am dreaming, the death penalty.  Every time I watch the news and see this despicable man on the tv screen, I get so upset. 

  5. “The honour of your family is in the hands of your women.” Wisdom.

  6. I think our justice system has done an admirable job of presenting evidence thus far and although we should not pre-judge the guilt or innocence of these parties, it seems clear to me how this trial will end. The crime is heinous on so many levels. My questions are would this trial and subsequent punishment be different under Sharia Law or does it reinforce Canada’s tradition of Judeo-Christian jurisprudence and encourage us to firmly resist the pressure to adopt the cultural norms of other Nations ?

    • sharia laws would never even ask where the women disappeared to. it would just assume the y had dishonoured the family and religion. the father would probably have had a party thrown in his ‘honour’ and the son would probably have dozens of parents asking him to marry their “useless” daughters

  7. I hope his cell mate is Bubba from the Rock Machine.

  8. rayneill writes: ” My questions are would this trial and subsequent punishment be different under Sharia Law or does it reinforce Canada’s tradition of Judeo-Christian jurisprudence and encourage us to firmly resist the pressure to adopt the cultural norms of other Nations ?”

    1) of COURSE the trial and punishment would be different under Sharia law!  This is obvious – different priorities, different scriptu–err, sorry – “codes of law.”2) Why on earth should we “adopt the cultural norms of other nations”?  You’re not entirely clear in your motives for asking the question, but are you implying that we should adopt Sharia to judge Muslims who have broken the law?  Should we then adopt Islamic law in Canada so we can feel better about not being Judeo-Christian (which we are)?  What exactly do you mean? If this is what you’re getting at, would you make an analogous argument for, say, India to give up its Hindu-Islamic norms so that it doesn’t “resist” Judeo-Christian values?

    I think you need to distinguish between respecting other cultures (which I endorse) and allowing them to run roughshod over Canadian culture (which I am very much against).  Sadly, Canada’s neurotic relationship to its own sense of identity means we see too much compromise and admission of other cultures into our norms (i.e. Sikhs being allowed to wear turbans instead of the RCMP issued uniform, which I vehemently disagree with).

  9. You boys and girls talking about immigration…good thing we didn’t have the rules you want in place when your parents or ancestors showed up on eastern shores or at our airports or your sorry butt wouldn’t be sending the text you spew from the computer in front of you. OF COURSE, this is a terrible crime and sadly, this does happen in other countries and goes unpunished, but thank God, we still have honour and dignity for all law abiding people who come to Canada, from wherever and whenever they did.

    • my ancestors were here long before yours showed up so don’t assume we are all immigrants

      • judyr8 reading over the responses, yours are the most senseless. I understand that you are angered by this crime (as am I), but but just because your ancestors showed up earlier than the rest of ours doesn’t make you any more of a Canadian citizen. These 3 individuals do not represent immigrants as a whole, and it is absolutely ignorant for you to assume so. This shouldn’t be about religion or immigration- because this disgusting threesome represents neither.

  10. @Reifd: who exactly are you addressing?  And how is this relevant??

  11. Why are you still referring to Tooba Yayya as the guy’s wife. For as long as we are not under Sharia law, there is only one wife, and she is now dead. As for Tooba’s children, did he ever adopt them? Are they represented as dependants on his tax returns. How were the two women represented on his immigration request? In other words, were Canadian authorities exercising due diligence or have they been in some sense complicit in this grisly mass murder?

  12. I seriously think that people who use their religion as an excuse to harm others ( and not just murder but sexual assault and verbal abuse as well) should have every child removed from the extended families and placed in foster care where their religion is not taught, take away all the kids, and kick the people back where they came from and that includes ALL religions; Muslim, Mormon, Pentecostal, Catholic.

    • But this case is not about religion, this is `culture`.

      • their culture IS their religion

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