Their guilty verdicts have sparked vigorous conversations about the difficulties of existing at a junction of cultures in a pluralist society. Mohammad Shafia, his wife Tooba Yahya and their son Hamed were each found guilty of four counts of first degree murder in the conclusion of the high-profile “honour killing” trial for the murders of Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17, Geeti, 13—sisters killed by their parents and brother —and Rona Amir Mohammad, Shafia’s first wife in a polygamous marriage.
“It is difficult to conceive of a more despicable, more heinous crime,” said Justice Robert Maranger as he handed out three automatic life sentences with no chance of parole for 25 years to the three Shafias found guilty of drowning the four women and dumping them and their Nissan into the Rideau Canal.
But news broke Monday morning that lawyers representing the Montreal family will appeal the guilty verdict. At the time of sentencing, given the opportunity to speak, all three convicts insisted on their innocence. Mohammad Shafia, speaking through an interpreter, said: “We are not criminal. We are not murderers. We didn’t commit the murders and this is unjust.”
As word of the guilty verdict spread across the country on Sunday, many reflected on lessons that can be learned from the trial, which detailed how the Shafias, ashamed of the behaviour of their three daughters, plotted and carried out their murders. The story has been taken as an horrific exemplum of the complications of divergent values in a country such as Canada, especially for the children of traditionalist parents holding on to patriarchal power dynamics at odds with the norms of family life in Canadian society. Writing Sunday in the Toronto Star, columnist Rosie DiManno put it eloquently: “If there’s anything that should be learned from this trial, any warning we should heed, it’s to be alert, as a society to the secret lives of girls in gilded cages, ethnic daughters held hostage in their own homes by chauvinism and misogyny. Sadly, that is not uncommon.”
At least, thankfully, killing children in the name of family honour is uncommon.