In a case that has raised questions about Canada's reputation as a welcoming melting pot for immigrants, an Afghan man, one of his wives, and their son, are all on trial for allegedly murdering two family members in what prosecutors claim was a grisly “honor killing.”
The alleged murder victims are Mohammad Shafia daughters – Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17, and Geeti, 13. The teens had complained to child welfare officials about their brother and father, who are alleged to have been physically abusive to the girls for their dress and behavior. Child welfare officials did not find enough evidence to remove the girls from the home, and days later, they, along with Shafia's second wife, Rona Amir Mohammad, were found dead inside a submerged car in June 2009.
The circumstances surrounding the death of the four women were unusual to police: the car they were in was submerged in only seven feet of water, there were no signs of the women attempting to escape, no one was wearing a seat belt, and the bodies were arranged haphazardly in the car instead of in seats. That led police to suspect Shafia, 58, of having something to do with their deaths.
After secretly putting a recording device in Shafia's car, police heard enough to charge Shafia, his living wife Tooba Mohammad Yahya, 41, and their son Hamed, 20, of four counts of first-degree murder.
"They betrayed kindness. They betrayed Islam. They betrayed our religion and creed. They betrayed our tradition. They betrayed everything," Shafia told Tooba and Hamed, according to CBC News.
In another wiretapped conversation, Shafia again speaks ill of his dead daughters and 50-year-old wife: “Even if they come back to life a hundred times, if I have a cleaver in my hand, I will cut (them) in pieces. Not once but a hundred times, as they acted that cruel towards you and me. For the love of God, what had we done to them? What excess had we committed … that they undressed themselves in front of boys?”
Speaking about pictures of his eldest daughter, Zainab, hugging her boyfriend, Shafia said, “Is that what a daughter should be? Would a daughter be such a whore?”
He later added: “ I'm happy and my conscience is clear. They haven't done good and God punished them...May the devil s--t on their graves.”
These rants have led prosecutors to believe that Shafia carried out the murder of his three daughters and first wife (who is said to have sided with the daughters when they sought help from child welfare officials) as “honor killings.”
However, Shafia denies he had anything to do with the deaths, insisting that the women went on a joyride and crashed into the river.
“My honor is important to me,” he told prosecutors while on the stand. “But you can’t regain your honor with murder … I’m a strict Muslim, but I’m not a killer.”
Nonetheless, he believed the women deserved to die.
“You believe their actions brought about their rightful deaths, don’t you?” asked a prosecutor.
“Yes,” Shafia replied.
The trial will reconvene on Jan. 9, at which point defense attorneys will question Shafia and his wife and son.
According to a 2010 report on violence against women in immigrant communities in Canada, 12 women have been killed in “honor killings” between 2002 and 2010.
The Global Post reported that those murders contributed to a statement in the Canadian citizenship guide: “[Canada's] openness and generosity do not extend to barbaric cultural practices that tolerate spousal abuse, ‘honour killings,’ female genital mutilation, forced marriage or other gender-based violence.”