Three Shafia stories

Dec 15, 2011 – 7:31 PM ET | Last Updated: Dec 15, 2011 10:15 PM ET

Lars Hagberg / Postmedia News

Lars Hagberg / Postmedia News

Mohammad Shafia leaves the holding cell at the Frontenac county courthouse in Kingston, Ont. December 13, 2011 following a lunch break. Mohammad Shafia, 58, his wife, Tooba Mohammad Yahya, 42, and their son, Hamed, 20, have pleaded not guilty to killing Shafia sisters Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17, and Geeti, 13, and Rona Amir Mohammad, 52, who was Shafia’s first wife. The four were found dead June 30, 2009, in a Nissan Sentra discovered submerged in a shallow canal in Kingston.

Just about any reporter covering the trial of Mohammad Shafia et al. gets questions from readers who are either new to the story or who have forgotten, two months later, some of the earlier testimony.

With the case now on a break for Christmas, a short refresher course seems in order.

Mr. Shafia, his second wife Tooba Mohammad Yahya, and their eldest son, Hamed, are pleading not guilty to four counts each of first-degree murder in the June 30, 2009, deaths of almost half their family.

Found in a submerged black Nissan at an improbable location at the Kingston Mills locks that morning were Zainab, Sahar and Geeti Shafia — respectively 19, 17 and 13 — and their purported aunt, 52-year-old Rona Amir Mohammad.

Ms. Amir was in fact Mr. Shafia’s other wife, though she wasn’t officially acknowledged that way in Canada, where polygamy is illegal.

Court handouts

Sahar Shafia, left, Zainab, top, and Geeti

• Why does the media call it an “honour killing” trial?

First, the term isn’t a media creation. It’s the global shorthand for the phenomenon whereby girls and women deemed to have shamed their families, usually by dressing immodestly or being involved with boys, are killed by their male relatives.

As the prosecutors’ expert witness, Dr. Shahzrad Mojab, told the jurors, in patriarchal, honour-based cultures such as Afghanistan’s and parts of the Middle East, “cleansing one’s honour of shame is typically handled by the killing of a loved one.” The victims are invariably female, the perpetrators usually male (often fathers and other male relatives) but sometimes with females or with female help.

In other words, the term doesn’t mean the crime is honourable, but rather that it was, as is the allegation here, motivated by a distorted sense of honour.

• How did the women die?

All four of them drowned. All but Sahar had areas of similar recent bruising — in Ms. Amir’s case, it was significant — on the same place on the crowns of their heads. Geeti had additional bruising at her right shoulder.

Dr. Christopher Milroy, the forensic pathologist, testified there was no way to know where the four were drowned — in the Nissan or somewhere else — or in what order or by what mechanism. Toxicological tests were negative for any known incapacitating drugs.

A curious aspect of the deaths is that though the driver’s side window was fully open, none of the four women appears to have tried to escape the Nissan. The water where it was found was only a little more than two metres deep, or about six feet, 10 inches.

And among the oddities about the Nissan is the fact that the front seats were so fully reclined — they were almost flat — the car would have been difficult for many people to drive, the ignition was off and the automatic shifter was in first, or low, gear.

• What evidence did the Crown present?

It falls into a couple of categories — forensic, testimony from witnesses and Kingston Police wiretaps.

In the first category are plastic pieces of a broken headlamp found at the locks that prove the Shafias’ silver Lexus was there at the scene and that damage to the front of the Lexus matched damage done to the rear of the Nissan. Also in this group are cellphone records that show the last text message received by Sahar’s phone at 1:36 a.m. on June 30 bounced off a cellphone tower at Station Road — it is the closest tower to Kingston Mills locks, just 1,300 metres away — and that, smack in the middle of the family’s trip to Niagara Falls, Hamed’s cellphone took a little trip to the Kingston area.

As for testimony, the strongest probably came from a dozen independent witnesses — teachers and officials at the girls’ Montreal school, child-protection workers, and Montreal Police — who told the jurors how fearful, sad and desperate to be out of the house were Sahar and Geeti.

As well, boyfriends of Sahar and Zainab also testified how controlled the girls were, how Hamed and other siblings monitored their movements. And an Afghan women’s rights activist who talked frequently by phone to Ms. Amir said she too was afraid — afraid to leave her husband, afraid to stay, afraid of being shipped back to Afghanistan.

But it was the wiretaps that provided prosecutors with devastating evidence that the accused trio, in conversations they believed were private, were just weeks after the deaths cursing the dead girls as “filth” and “whores” who had shamed the family and deserved their fates, and that there appeared to be a family songbook from which all surviving members were expected to sing.

• What do the accused three have to say?

They’re obliged to say nothing, of course, or even to present a defence. The burden of proving the case beyond a reasonable doubt always rests with prosecutors.

But lawyer Peter Kemp did both, put his client, the 59-year-old Mr. Shafia, on the stand and called one of the surviving children to testify in support. Only when the trial resumes Jan. 9 will jurors learn if lawyers David Crowe and Patrick McCann are going to do the same thing.

But Ms. Yahya, who turned 42 last week, and Hamed, who is soon to be 21, are already on record through lengthy video-ed statements to Kingston Police and, in Hamed’s case, also in an audio recording to a dubious “private investigator” named Moosa Hadi who was hired as a translator by the defence team but then went to work on the sly for Mr. Shafia.

Initially, Ms. Yahya stuck to the original narrative recited by all three: After a long day of driving, they’d stopped for the night at a motel, though Hamed took the Lexus on to Montreal for a spot of business he had to do.

In this scenario, the last thing they saw of any of the four was when Zainab came into their room to ask for the car keys to get her luggage.

Then, the parents said, when they woke up that morn, the four were gone, the Nissan missing. Hamed came back to Kingston in the family minivan to help his parents make a missing persons report.

Ms. Yahya changed her tune after her arrest, admitting they’d all been at the locks, and that she and Hamed heard a splash and knew the Nissan had gone into the water. But then, she said, she had swooned and gone unconscious, and knew nothing else. The next day, she recanted this new version.

Hamed, meantime, didn’t tell the police he’d been in an odd accident — a collision in a near-empty parking lot with a barrier — that same morn in Montreal. When they learned about it, they confronted him and he admitted it.

But months later, in the fall of 2009, Hamed also admitted in his chat with the unofficial private eye that he’d staged the accident to cover up the damage done to the Lexus at the locks.

The truth of that night, he said now, was that Zainab and the others were determined to go for a drive that night, and worried, he’d followed them.

He accidentally got too close, and hit the Nissan, he said, and while he was picking up the pieces of broken headlight, he heard a splash. He told the wannabe private eye he sounded the horn and dangled a rope in the water, but saw no signs of life. So, he said, off he went to Montreal, too afraid to call police to help his sisters because he feared they’d blame him for allowing Zainab to drive without a licence.

That makes three versions on the table: the original story, wherein the family had no inkling of what happened; Ms. Yahya’s recanted version, which places all three of them at the locks but fills in no blanks; or Hamed’s most recent tale, which puts the parents back at the motel while he, befuddled brother, is there for the terrible accident.


3 thoughts on “IT’S NOT CULTURAL, IT’S ISLAM..

    • Sad isn’t it. I like that you put this post out about this, not that it happened. There is no reason to allow Muslims to immigrate into western civilization. None at all.
      Bob A.

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