Shafia family appears in court via video
Charged in Kingston canal slayings; Parents can communicate with children without presence of lawyer, judge rules
By René Bruemmer, THE GAZETTEAugust 7, 2009
Mohammed Shafia, Hamed Mohammed Shafia and Tooba Mohammed Yahya. Photograph by Marcos Townsend/Tyrel Featherstone, Canwest News Service
KINGSTON, Ont. – The couple charged with murdering their three daughters and the man’s first wife appeared briefly via video at a Kingston courthouse yesterday with one request: that they be allowed to speak to their three surviving children without lawyers present.
Their 18-year-old son, also charged in the murders, made the same request.
Clad in an orange prison jumpsuit, looking drawn and tired, Mohammad Shafia, 56, appeared in the courtroom via video from the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre.
Through his lawyer, with a Farsi interpreter translating, Shafia asked that an earlier regulation, which stipulated he could communicate with his children only with a lawyer present and with the consent of youth protection services that are caring for the children, be amended.
Shafia’s lawyer, Peter Kemp, asked that the requirement to have lawyers present by removed, and that any communication be allowed only if youth protection approves.
The judge agreed to the requests by the father, the mother and the son.
The three were remanded until their next court date, Aug. 14, when lawyers are to discuss the disclosure of evidence.
Mohammad Shafia and his wife, Tooba Mohammad Yahya, 39, are charged with the murders of their three daughters: Zainab, 19; Sahari, 17; and Geeti, 13; and with the murder of Shafia’s first wife, Rona Amir Mohammad. Hamed Shafia, 18, faces the same charges.
Hamed Shafia and Yahya are staying at the Quinte Detention Centre in Napanee, Ont. Hamed Shafia appeared composed during the short video conference, but Yahya looked stricken, holding onto the wall to support herself, her other hand clutched to her chest.
In prison, Yahya sits and stares wordlessly through the bars of her cell, said Sara Chaloux, who spent a week in the same wing at the prison and was in court yesterday on an unrelated matter.
“I felt bad for her,” Chaloux said in an interview. “Other inmates would go up to her and make comments or threats, but she just sat and stared and never said a word.”
Yahya was escorted from her cell only after all other inmates were enclosed in theirs, Chaloux said.
Lawyers for the men reported Hamed was attacked while in jail, and his father was threatened.
Montreal lawyers were replaced this week by legal counsel from Kingston with strong backgrounds in criminal law. The new lawyers did not speak to the media yesterday.
The bodies of the four family members were discovered June 30 in a Nissan Sentra submerged in the Rideau Canal near Kingston.
The accused and the victims lived together in a duplex in St. Léonard.
After the bodies were found, Shafia and his wife told police Zainab had borrowed the keys to the car. They believed she had left without their knowledge with the other victims, and probably drove into the canal by accident.
Kingston police said they discount this theory and confirmed they are looking into the possibility the slayings were carried out as a so-called honour killing.
Zainab, had been in two relationships of which Mohammad Shafia did not approve, relatives had said.