In a case that has captivated Canadians and made headlines around the world, Montreal-based Afghan-Canadian Mohammad Shafia, 58, his wife Tooba Yahya, 42, and their 21-year-old son Hamed were convicted of first-degree murder in the deaths – deemed “honor killings” – of four female family members. The decision came today following a three-month trial and 15 hours of deliberation by a Kingston, Ontario, jury.
On June 30, 2009, the bodies of three Shafia sisters – Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17, and Geeti, 13 – were discovered inside a car on the Rideau Canal, along with that of Shafia’s first wife in a polygamous marriage, Rona Amir Mohammad. The women were allegedly victims of “honor killings” after betraying the family’s traditional Afghan values.
“It is difficult to conceive of a more heinous, more despicable, more honorless crime,” Ontario Superior Court Judge Robert Maranger said. “There is nothing more honorless than the deliberate murder of, in the case of Mohammad Shafia, three of his daughters and his wife; in the case of Tooba Yahya, three of her daughters and a stepmother to all her children; in the case of Hamed Shafia, three of his sisters and a mother.
“The apparent reason behind these cold-blooded, shameful murders was that the four completely innocent victims offended your twisted concept of honor, a notion of honor that is founded upon the domination and control of women, a sick notion of honor that has absolutely no place in any civilized society,” he went on to say before sentencing each of them to life in prison with no chance to apply for parole for 25 years.
Upon hearing the verdict, the Shafia family proclaimed their innocence. “We are not criminals. We are not murderers. We didn’t commit murder. This is unjust,” said Mohammad. His wife, Tooba, echoed his sentiments: “I am not a murderer. I am a mother!”
According to reports, the trial heard evidence of of an abusive household where victims received frequent death threats, in part because the two eldest daughters had boyfriends without their father’s approval. Prosecutors claimed that in Mohammad’s eyes, all three girls had damaged the family’s reputation by wearing revealing clothing, dating boys, and telling school officials of the alleged abuse at home.
After the four bodies were found in 2009, a post-mortem exam showed they died of drowning. Prosecutors said the victims were drowned or rendered unconscious before being placed in a car and then pushed into the water. The defense, however, claimed that the eldest daughter, Zainab, had taken the car on a “joyride” in the middle of the night along with her sisters and Rona.
“This jury found that four strong, vivacious and freedom-loving women were murdered by their own family in the most troubling of circumstances,” Crown attorney Gerard Laarhuis said outside the courthouse as onlookers cheered. “This verdict sends a very clear message about our Canadian values and the core principles in a free and democratic society.”