Canadian Family Gets Life Sentence for Honor Killing

Three members of a single family were sentenced to life in prison yesterday for what Canadian prosecutors say was an honor killing. But they continue to claim innocence.

According to the Globe and Mail, Mohammad Shafia, his wife Tooba Yahya, and his son Hamed Shafia were convicted of killing three of Mohammad Shafia's teenage daughters and his first wife by pushing their car into a canal. Prosecutors say the three defendants killed the women because the two older teens had started dating boys and Shafia's first wife Rona Mohammad wanted to get out of her marriage. Back in 2009, when the crimes were discovered, there was a lot of debate over whether they were true honor killings — Rona Mohammad's sister alleged that they were, but some said the Shafia family weren't particularly religious. And a law professor cautioned against overusing the term "honor killing": "From a social perspective, you don't want to criminalize a community by associating them with a particular, heinous act of violence."

The judge in the Shafia trial clearly had no qualms about the terminology, though. In a statement to the defendants, he said, "It is difficult to conceive of a more despicable, more heinous crime. The apparent reason behind these cold-blooded, shameful murders was that the four completely innocent victims offended your completely twisted concept of honour, a notion of honour that is founded upon the domination and control of women." The Shafia men and Yahya, however, still maintain that they didn't kill anybody. Said Yahya, "Your honourable justice, this is not just. I am not a murderer, and I am a mother –- a mother."

Prosecutors painted a very different picture at the trial, pointing out evidence that Shafias could have faked the accident that sent the women's car into the water, and that the women may have been dead before they hit. They also played wiretapped conversations in which Mohammad Shafia called his daughters whores and said, "I say to myself, 'You did well. Would they come back to life a hundred times, you should so the same again.'" But he also adamantly denied in court that honor killing is permitted in his religion: "To kill someone, you can't regain your respect and honor. [...] In our religion, a person who kills his wife or daughter, there is nothing more dishonorable. How is it possible that someone would do that to their children [...]?"

Many — including prosecutors — are calling the verdict a strong message that honor killing won't be accepted in Canada. But the case is still far from cut and dried — one law professor, even while praising the verdict, calls the evidence against the Shafias circumstantial. And it's likely that the Shafias will appeal. Whatever the end of this sad story is, we haven't seen it yet.

Judge condemns 'sick notion of honour' [Globe and Mail]
What does the Shafia guilty verdict mean for Canada's legal system? [National Post]
Family plans to appeal convictions in 'honor murders' [CNN]