Hayward Discusses 'Honor Killings' In Canada

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This weekend, a Canadian jury convicted three members of an Afghan immigrant family of killing four of their relatives. The deaths at first appeared to be accidental, but prosecutors argued it was a cold-blooded murder. Melissa Block speaks with reporter Justin Hayward of the CBC.


It's a case that has shocked the conscience of Canada. And it ended yesterday when a jury in Ontario found three members of an Afghan family guilty of murder. The deaths have been referred to as honor killings. Yesterday, the judge described them as murders motivated by a completely twisted sense of honor; heinous, despicable, cold-blooded and shameful.

Here are the basics of the case. In June of 2009, a woman and three teenage sisters were found dead in a car, submerged in a canal. Those now convicted of their murder are the girls' father, his second wife - who is the girls' mother - and their son.

For more on the case, I'm joined by CBC Radio reporter Justin Hayward. And, Justin, at first this was thought to be a case of accidental drowning. But then, investigators started looking at the family and hearing troubling stories about the three girls - ages 19, 17 and 13 - and their situation at home. What did they hear?

JUSTIN HAYWARD: Well, of the 58 witnesses that came and spoke to the court, a number of them were there to illustrate the situation of the young women at home. There were teachers from their school, officials from youth protection here in Quebec. And if you take all of their testimony together, it paints a picture of three young women who were normal, relatively rebellious North American teenagers who were bumping up against sort of these more traditional beliefs that they should be more tightly controlled.

And the teachers were telling stories of sometimes seeing bruising on them. So, you certainly got a picture of a very controlling family, traditional family atmosphere that was at odds with what the average North American teenager wants to have as freedoms.

BLOCK: And I gather there was also physical evidence that indicated that this car didn't just fall into the canal, but that another car may have pushed it into the canal.

HAYWARD: Yeah. Police put together evidence that there was damage on the family Lexus that matched damage on a recently bought Nissan Sentra, which was the car that was found in the canal. And the police's theory that they pieced together with the damage from those two cars was that the Lexus pushed the Sentra into the canal.

BLOCK: Investigators ultimately put a wiretap in the family's minivan and got what turned out to be some damning evidence. They heard the father, Mohammad Shafia, say this about his daughters: Would they come back to life 100 times, you should do the same thing again. May the devil defecate on their graves. This is what a daughter should be. Would a daughter be such a whore?

How did the defense try to explain or account for what the father said?

HAYWARD: Yeah. That was extremely shocking evidence. And I remember being in court when they were playing it, and you could hear people audibly gasp when those translated tapes were played in court. What the defense did is they brought in an expert in Afghan culture who said that Afghans, when they're upset or grieving, will swear a lot. And this kind of swearing is not to be taken literally. For example, that quote that you just said, may the devil defecate on their graves. He said that that's no stronger than a North American saying, to hell with them, and that the father, Mohammad Shafia, was just trying to make himself feel better by blowing off steam.

BLOCK: Justin, this story has generated a lot of coverage there in Canada. Talk a bit about how it's been received by the Canadian people and this whole notion of honor killings.

HAYWARD: Yeah. It's certainly an ongoing debate. I mean, our House of Commons is just sitting again today for the first time since around Christmas. And we're expecting that this will probably come up in the House, that something will be said. But there hasn't been a lot of public forum other than radio call-in shows and the like. And you can imagine how vitriolic some people can be about this sort of thing.

Certainly, there's also a debate where cooler heads are prevailing, where they're trying to say - for example, even outside the court yesterday, there was an imam and there was a young Afghan who's a student at a nearby university to where the trial was taking place who came that day because they knew the media would be there en masse and they wanted to make sure that everyone understood that it's not all Afghans, it's not all Muslims that are like this.

BLOCK: And is that the fear, that there will be a backlash toward the Afghan-Canadian, the Muslim-Canadian community because of this?

HAYWARD: We've spoken to a number of people about that, and that's absolutely what they're concerned about. So, they're already out in the streets, so to speak, trying to make sure that that doesn't happen.

BLOCK: I've been talking with CBC Radio reporter Justin Hayward. Justin, thank you very much.

HAYWARD: My pleasure.



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