The Globe and Mail
KINGSTON – Three teenagers and a woman found dead in a submerged car at the Kingston Mills lock two years ago were the victims of “honour killings” committed by members of their family who then staged an elaborate but clumsy cover-up, a court was told Thursday.
And as pieces of the proof, Crown prosecutor Laurie Lacelle outlined for the jury in her opening remarks a wealth of incriminating acts before and after the four deaths. They included: A Google inquiry on the protagonist’s home computer about “where to commit a murder.”
A wiretapped conversation in which that same man – the father of the teens and husband of the dead woman – said of the four victims: “God’s curse on them for generations. May the Devil shit on their graves” and “There is nothing more important than our honour.”
And later, shortly before the defendants were arrested, the father said of the four: “They committed treason from beginning to end. They betrayed Islam and our traditions, they betrayed everything.”
A tableau of horror was unveiled as the trial began.
In July, 2009, first-degree murder charges were laid against Mohammad Shafia, 58, his second wife, 41-year-old Tooba Mohammad Yahya, and their son, Hamed, 21. The trio stand accused of killing the couple’s three teenaged daughters, Zainab, Sahar and Geeti, together with Mr. Shafia’s first wife, Rona Amir Mohammad, aged 53, all of Afghan descent. Three weeks before the charges were laid on June 30, the bodies of the four women were discovered in Mr. Shafia’s Nissan Sentra submerged in a Rideau Canal lock, just east of Kingston.
The family had been travelling in two vehicles back to their Montreal-area home after a short vacation in Niagara Falls and had stopped overnight in Kingston when the four vanished.
All four victims died as a result of drowning, Ms. Lacelle said, but it was not clear where and how they perished. The three teenagers all had fresh bruises on their heads, she said. Mr. Shafia’s Lexus was used to shove the Nissan into the lock, she said. The prosecutor painted a picture of an abusive, severely dysfunctional family in which the daughters were treated like chattel.
And what particularly upset Mr. Shafia and his son Hamed, she said, were the girls’ Western-oriented lifestyle, most of all their interest in boys.
More than once, school officials and children’s aid workers took a role in trying to help, but nothing concrete came of their efforts. It was a household filled with trauma and misery, the prosecutor said, alluded to repeatedly in a diary kept by Rona Mohammad, who lived with the family and doted on the children
She wrote of being beaten, confined to the house and abuse from Tooba Mohammad Yahya, who once told Rona: “You are not his wife, you are my servant… Your life is in my hands.”
When 19-year-old Zainab finally fled, later to return, “the household went into turmoil,” Ms. Lacelle said. Seated in the prisoner’s box, the two men were impassive, but Tooba Mohammad Yahya sometimes wept.
When the four bodies were discovered, Mr. Shafia told police he believed his rebellious eldest daughter, Zainab, had taken the Nissan without his permission and along with her two sisters and Rona Amir Mohammad had made an early start back to Montreal when they came to grief.
But from almost the outset, Kingston police were suspicious, and the core of the prosecution case is that the apparent accident was all a fabrication. Father, mother and son are each charged with four counts of first-degree murder. All have pleaded not guilty.
The Shafia family emigrated to Canada in 2007, settling in the Montreal borough of St. Leonard, after previously living in Australia, Pakistan and then in Dubai for 15 years. In all, the Shafias had seven children, three of whom were placed in care by Quebec authorities after their parents’ arrest. All seven are the offspring of Mr. Shafia and his wife, Tooba Mohammad Yahya, whom he married in Afghanistan in 1988 before emigrating.
Also living with the family in Montreal was Rona Amir Mohammad, described to friends and neighbours as a cousin of Mr. Shafia, but who in fact was his first wife. Under Afghan law, polygamy is permissible.
A wealthy businessman who had prospered in Montreal until his arrest, the Kabul-born Mr. Shafia had relocated in Quebec under the auspices of the province’s immigrant investor program and a year after his arrival he purchased a commercial mall in Laval for $2-million. He also ran a real-estate management company and a multi-pronged import and distribution operation.
The murder trial before Ontario Superior Court Justice Mr. Robert Maranger is expected to hear from almost 60 witnesses, including 21 police officers.
The Shafias’ native tongue is a Dari dialect of Farsi, spoken mainly in Iran but also in parts of Afghanistan, and the courtroom in the ornate Frontenac County Court House has been equipped to provide simultaneous translation in Farsi and French.
The prosecution team is headed by Gerard Laarhuis and Ms. Lacelle. The defence lawyers comprise Peter Kemp for Mr. Shafia, David Crowe for Tooba Mahommad Yahya and Patrick McCann for Hamed Shafia.
The trial is expected to last eight to 10 weeks.