Sahar Shafia, 15, who was found dead with 3 others, Zainab Shafia, 17, Geeti Shafia, 13, and Rona Amir Mohammad, 53, Their bodies were found on the morning of June 30, 2009, in a Nissan Sentra submerged in the Kingston Mills locks, on the edge of the town of Kingston
Christie Blatchford Oct 20, 2011 – 7:37 PM ET | Last Updated: Oct 21, 2011 10:38 AM ET
KINGSTON, Ont. — It’s the Canadian Maple Leaf that flies high over the picturesque locks at Kingston Mills near this historic city, but on the night of June 30, 2009, it might just as well have been the black-red-and-green flag of Afghanistan, with its sacred line proclaiming the greatness of Allah.
What happened at the locks that night, Crown prosecutors alleged in Ontario Superior Court Thursday, was a so-called “honour killing,” the culmination of a violent misogynist Afghan culture that had been transplanted holus-bolus years earlier into the heart of central Canada.
Geeti Shafia, 13
“May the devil s— on their graves,” Mohammad Shafia told his second wife, Tooba Mohammad Yahya, 20 days after the bodies of the couple’s three teenage daughters and Mr. Shafia’s first wife were recovered from a car in the water at the locks.
Found dead by drowning in a black Nissan Mr. Shafia had bought just eight days earlier – the suggestion implicit that he got it for that very purpose — were Rona Amir Mohammad, the barren wife who had been presented to the children and outsiders both as an “auntie,” and rebellious daughters Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17, and 13-year-old Geeti.
Charged with four counts each of first-degree murder are Mr. Shafia, Ms. Yahya and their oldest son Hamid, who was 18 at the time. All are pleading not guilty.
The ghastly conversation was captured on a Kingston Police wiretap, prosecutor Laurie Lacelle told Judge Robert Maranger and a jury.
In another snippet recorded by the device police had placed in a family car, Mr. Shafia told Ms. Yahya, “They committed treason themselves. They betrayed humankind. They betrayed Islam. They betrayed our religion…they betrayed everything.”
He said whenever he saw the pictures taken by Zainab and Sahar on their cell phones – these were goofy shots of them posing in bras and panties, or with their forbidden boyfriends — “I am consoled.
“I say to myself, ‘You did well.’ Were they to come to life, I would do it again.”
In a detailed opening address of 90 minutes, Ms. Lacelle told the jurors they would hear from a variety of witnesses, including those to whom Rona Mohammad and the children had confided their fear of Mr. Shafia and Hamid.
In fact, what was most galling about the prosecutor’s overview of the evidence to come was how very openly the teenagers had rebelled against their parents — once, from a street corner in Montreal where the family lived, they begged a stranger to call 911 for them because they were so afraid to go home — and how little Canadian authorities and Canadian law helped them.
In fact, Quebec child protection authorities twice investigated complaints from Sahar’s school, once little more than three weeks before the four bodies were found.
In the first instance, Ms. Lacelle said, the social worker deemed the complaint to be “founded” – true, in other words – but closed the file anyway when Sahar wouldn’t talk to her once she learned that the worker would be obligated to tell her parents what she’d told her.
The next time she interviewed the girl two days later, “Sahar was wearing the hijab” and claimed things had improved at home.
In the second instance, though police in Montreal interviewed the children separately and had them open up about their maltreatment – including the fact that Mr. Shafia allegedly “often threatened to kill them” – the child protection worker interviewed the girls in the presence of their parents.
Zainab Shafia, 17
Unsurprisingly, they clammed up or recanted their earlier allegations, and the worker closed the file.
Though the family – Mr. Shafia, two wives and a total of seven children – left Afghanistan in 1992, they didn’t emigrate to Canada until June of 2007, with Rona Mohammad following six months later on a visitor’s visa.
She left a diary, found by police, which detailed the alleged beatings she suffered at her husband’s hands and the cruelty dished out to her by her fertile replacement, Ms. Yahya, who allegedly told her, “Your life is in my hands” and, “You are not his wife; you are my servant.”
Though Mr. Shafia and Hamid may have appeared the picture of successful and Westernized men – the father was wealthy, owned a shopping mall in Laval and had contracted to build an upscale home, and the family had lived in Pakistan, Australia and Dubai – behind closed doors, they might as well have been back in Afghanistan.
The oldest son Hamid was the head of the household when Mr. Shafia was away. He had a driver’s licence and his own cell phone, used his father’s silver Lexus, and helped him in business.
The daughters, meanwhile, had phones registered to either father or son, and Zainab was kept out of school for a full year after the family discovered she had a boyfriend.
It was her running away, in the spring of 2009, to a women’s shelter which sparked the family’s downward spiral, Ms. Lacelle told the jurors.
But Sahar, too, was rebelling. She had a boyfriend. She loved makeup and clothes, like her big sister. She wanted to be a gynecologist, and was moved by the plight of her native sisters in Afghanistan.
Once, miserable at facing the prospect of having to wear a hijab, she tried to kill herself. According to Rona Mohammad’s diary, Ms. Yahya snapped, “She can go to hell; let her kill herself.”
But it was the little girl, Geeti, who fought her parents most ferociously and who begged most blatantly for help.
Rona Amir Mohammad, Mohammad Shafia’s first wife
“She told her school,” Ms. Lacelle said. “She told the police. She told youth protection.”
What she told them was that she wanted to be out of her family home, to be placed with a foster family.
The teen was failing at school, late coming home, was caught shoplifting and was even sent from school for wearing revealing clothing.
Just weeks before she died, the school vice-principal phoned and told Ms. Yahya why she was being sent home.
It was Ms. Yahya who convinced Zainab to leave the shelter, who promised she could marry her boyfriend.
On May 18, she did get married, a ceremony witnessed, of course, only by the male members of the family.
At a later family dinner, her husband’s family refused to attend, and the marriage was annulled the same day. Plans were put in place for her to marry a cousin.
By the first of June that year, Hamid was in Dubai, and there, on his father’s laptop, began conducting Google searches. The key words the first time were, “Can a prisoner have control over their real estate?” Another, on June 20, had the following key words: “Where to commit a murder?”
Prosecutors allege that after a brief family vacation in Niagara Falls, the plan was put into action. An OPP expert witness will testify that in his opinion, the Nissan got “hung up” on the locks and Mr. Shafia’s silver Lexus “was used to push the Nissan” into the water.
Autopsies later revealed that only Sahar didn’t have, on the crown of her head, fresh bruising, which had occurred when the women were alive.
Rona Mohammad once told a friend overseas, who will testify here, that she was afraid to leave – afraid Mr. Shafia would kill her, and hurt the children.
The friend told her, Ms. Lacelle said, “She was not in Afghanistan. She was in Canada, and not to be afraid.”
How wrong that woman was.
Lars Hagberg for Postmedia News
Left to right: Hamid and Mhammad Shafia, and Tooba Mohammad Yahya are charged with first degree murder.
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