HONOUR KILLINGS: New book reveals unreported layer of violence, control in Shafia family

Without Honour, a new book by Rob Tripp about the Shafia honour killings in Kingston, Ont. Submitted photo

ADRIAN HUMPHREYS
POSTMEDIA NEWS

The wedding might have been a solution, an escape valve for the suffocating pressure of a stern cultural view imposed on Zainab Shafia by her father, with his unbending views of Afghan tradition. But it ended in disaster.

When the young woman’s husband arrived at the wedding reception without any members of his family, the Shafias considered it unforgivable. It sparked a startling threat from Zainab’s brother, Hamed. “Hamed said, if I leave with you,” she whispered to her new husband, “he’s going to kill everyone here and then he’s going to kill himself.”

The threat ended the party and, combined with so much other pressure, her one-day-old marriage.

That 2009 threat is part of a previously unreported layer of violence and control that was exerted by the men of the Shafia family over the female family members. Six weeks after Hamed delivered that chilling wedding-day threat, Zainab, 19, and two of her sisters, Sahar, 17, and Geeti, 13, along with their father’s first wife in his polygamous marriage, Rona Amir Mohammad, were murdered and dumped into the Rideau Canal near Kingston, Ont.

That lethal warning from Hamed, who was later convicted of first-degree murder along with his father, Mohammad Shafia, and mother, Tooba Yahya, is revealed in Without Honour: The True Story of the Shafia Family and the Kingston Canal Murders, a new book on the disturbing case by veteran journalist Rob Tripp.

Tripp’s painstakingly researched and vividly told account of one of Canada’s most shocking crimes portrays a calamity born of clashing cultures, an unyielding obsession with domination and control, and a reluctance by authorities and citizens to intervene in a family’s domestic affairs, in part due to excessive cultural sensitivity.

“The cultural sensitivities among organizations and institutions (suggested) that we need to allow this family to preserve their culture, and that is a noble goal,” Tripp said in an interview. But the good intentions meant that a dangerous family situation went unchecked. “Political correctness and this belief that families are sacred cows, and cultural sensitivities: all those things conspired to seal the fate of these kids, particularly, and Rona.”

Author Rob Tripp, photographed in his Calgary home on Oct. 23, 2012. Colleen De Neve/Postmedia News

In addition to Hamed’s murderous threat, the book reveals other previously undisclosed details about life inside the brutally oppressive Shafia household in the years and months leading up to the horrific quadruple murder, including:
— Sahar told a schoolmate just weeks before her murder that she was pregnant, although the truth behind that claim remains unknown;
— Before arriving in Canada, the Shafia family was kicked out of Australia, when trying to immigrate from Afghanistan, for violating the terms of their visa, a fact that contradicts evidence presented at their trial;
— A schoolmate of the Shafia children, who did not testify at trial, said the girls’ younger brother had told him that shunning Sahar at home was a Shafia family “rule” because she upset her father;
— Other school friends with stories of the girls’ abuse at the hands of their father and brother Hamed, and others with accounts of the desperate ploys the girls used to avoid their father’s wrath, were not interviewed by investigators or called to give testimony at trial; and
— Several of the Shafia children got into trouble at a school in Dubai, including Geeti, who was suspended for kicking a teacher, and a younger brother (who cannot be named because of a publication ban) who was expelled when caught with pornography.

Without Honour presents a striking portrayal of the profound disconnect between Mohammad Shafia and his adopted home after his family immigrated to Montreal in 2007.

But the book, like the police investigation and the criminal trial, leaves one crucial question unanswered: How exactly were the women killed?

The cause of death was drowning, but it seems they could not have been alive, or at least conscious, when the car entered the water: There was no sign any of them tried to get out.

One theory is they were drugged during a roadside stop and then drowned, either in a shallow pond or in the public toilet near the canal, the bodies then placed in the car and pushed over the water’s edge.

The principals: Tooba Yahya (top row, from left), Mohammad Shafia and Hamed Shafia; and Sahar Shafia (bottom row, from left), Zainab Shafia, Geeti Shafia and Rona Amir Mohammad. Photo illustration

Tripp said only three people know the true story: the killers. And none of them have yet broken their silence.

Tripp delves into details of the family’s troubled life before the four ghastly murders and the investigation that unravelled the elaborate lies.

The book shows that despite Mohammad Shafia’s professed embrace of Islam and love of family, he was, above all else, a money-obsessed, cold-hearted man.

When his daughter wanted to get married, he turned to a relative to help him find a cleric to perform the service, because he did not attend a mosque. Shafia did not read the Qur’an, although he often evoked God’s name when berating his children, Tripp writes.

When police were interviewing him, Shafia seemed more concerned with the expensive cost of the Kingston motel rooms he had rented on the night of the murders than about the loss of almost half of his family.

And after his acts of murder, he remained unmoved. Caught in secret recordings by police, Shafia had nothing good to say about the dead girls.

“Even if they come back to life a hundred time, if I have a cleaver in my hand, I will cut (them) in pieces. Not once, but a hundred time,” he ranted. “May the devil shit on their graves … whore … honourless girl … They betrayed kindness, they betrayed Islam, they betrayed our religion and creed, they betrayed our tradition, they betrayed everything.”

Summarizing his world view, Shafia said: “There is nothing more valuable than our honour.”

Not even the lives of his children.

Speaking of her father, Sahar confided to a friend: “He doesn’t give us any love, just money. That’s all he cares about. He gives me money, not love, and that’s what I want. I just want love.”

Tripp came to one conclusion about the murders: People in the community needed to question what was happening inside the Shafia family. There were plenty of alerts to looming danger: police reports, interviews with child services officials, complaints to teachers, classmates and extended family; and several people had heard Shafia threaten to kill his daughter.

Each was a missed opportunity to prevent mass murder.

“How did we not save them?” Tripp said.

“People needed to be nosy. Maybe we need to be a little less polite about these things. If you hear that someone is afraid of a family member, we need to get involved.

“You don’t yank children away from their parents if you can help it — but that clearly needed to happen in this case. Someone needed to yank these kids away from that family to save them.”

Tripp sighs heavily when talking of the missed opportunities.

“Teenaged girls trying to be teenaged girls is no rationalization for murder.”

Without Honour, published by HarperCollins, will be released next week.

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