Michael Friscolanti is covering the honour killing trial for Maclean’s, filing regular reports from the Kingston, Ont. courtroom to Macleans.ca and weekly dispatches for the magazine. The reports will continue for the duration of the trial, which is expected to run into December.
Mohammad Shafia was blessed with seven children, praise be to God. Three are now dead, allegedly at his behest. Three are living under a different roof, allegedly for their own safety. And one is on trial with him, allegedly at the crime scene—along with his mother—on the night his “treacherous” sisters were dumped into the Rideau Canal.
Yet to hear him say it, Mohammad Shafia was the model Muslim father: generous, selfless and never “meddling” in his kids’ affairs. “We were not a strict family,” he insists to his wife and fellow murder suspect, Tooba Yahya, in one conversation captured by police. “We were kind of [a] liberal family.” He recalls how he let his children play at the park, took them on Friday afternoon picnics, and if they needed money, he never said no. “You and I, we carried these children on our backs,” he continues. “We subjected ourselves to hardships, we took on drudgery for them, we wash their sh– and pee, we wash their clothes.”
All he asked for in return were obedient daughters who wore the hijab and stayed away from boys. “They committed treason from beginning to end,” Shafia declares. “They betrayed kindness, they betrayed Islam, they betrayed our religion and creed, they betrayed our tradition, they betrayed everything.”
Those damning words were secretly recorded on the evening of July 20, 2009, just 18 hours before Shafia, Yahya, and their eldest son, Hamed, were arrested and charged with four counts of each of first-degree murder. Weeks earlier, three of the Shafia girls—Zainab, 19; Sahar, 17; and Geeti, 13—were found at the bottom of the Kingston Mills locks, floating beside the lifeless body of their “stepmother,” Shafia’s first wife in his secretly polygamous household, Rona Amir Mohammad. Prosecutors say that what appeared to be a tragic car accident was in fact a mass execution aimed at restoring the Afghan family’s “honour,” which was supposedly tarnished by the girls’ rebellious, Westernized behaviour since immigrating to Canada in 2007. (All three have pleaded not guilty.)
On Monday, a jury in Kingston, Ont., heard perhaps the most incriminating evidence to date: hours of police wiretaps that captured the trio’s own voices when they thought they were alone. Defiant, delusional—and utterly unrepentant—Shafia rails against his dead daughters (“May the devil sh– on their graves!”) and vows that “even if they came back to life a hundred times,” he would slay them again. “Not once, but a hundred times, as they acted that cruel towards you and me,” he tells his wife. “If we remain alive one night or one year, we have no tension in our hearts, [thinking that] our daughter is in the arms of this boy or that boy.”
In every chilling conversation, dad’s message is the same: “Nothing is more dear to me than my honour.”
In the final days of their investigation, detectives bugged the family mini-van, the Shafia home in Montreal, and numerous telephone lines. More than once, Hamed warns his parents to watch what they say (“They can fasten something to record your voice,” he says during one conversation) but they just can’t stop talking about the dead girls. “Filthy.” “Rotten.” “Whore.”
In one exchange, Shafia rants about Zainab, the eldest of his deceased daughters, who ran away with a Pakistani boyfriend and married against her family’s wishes. “She could have found a decent person, she could have found an Afghan,” her father says. “I would have given her away and would have said: ‘Go and get lost.’ You and I both were trying to find a good person to give her away to. We weren’t going to keep her for ourselves! That wouldn’t have been an appropriate thing.”
In another intercept, Zainab’s mother agrees she was sinful, but wishes that the other two daughters—Sahar and Geeti—could have been salvaged. Her husband quickly cuts her off, reminding Yahya of the pictures they found on the girls’ cellphones, showing them cuddling with boyfriends and posing in revealing clothing. “For the love of God, Tooba, damnation on this life of ours, on these years of life that we lead!” he barks. “When I tell you to be patient, you tell me that it is hard. It isn’t harder than watching them every hour with boyfriends. For this reason, whenever I see those pictures, I am consoled. I say to myself: ‘You did well.’ ”
On July 21, the day before the arrests, police executed a search warrant on the Shafia home—and in the process, provincial authorities removed the remaining children (two daughters and a son, whose names are protected by a publication ban). Later that night, while riding in the Pontiac mini-van, Shafia insists that his “conscience is clear” and that his daughters were “punished” by God. “Even if they hoist me up onto the gallows…nothing is more dear to me than my honour,” he says. “Don’t think about it, don’t worry about it. Whatever the eventuality, it is from God. We accept it wholeheartedly.”
Back home, in the early morning of July 22, Hamed receives a cellphone call from one of his younger sibling, now a ward of the state. The child tells Hamed that the police interviewed each of the them separately, and that they suspect quadruple homicide. “So Hamed, what’s going to happen?”
“I don’t know man,” Hamed answers.
“Should I kill myself, Hamed?”
“No man, don’t do anything like that. Don’t do anything like that.”
“Look Hamed, you are 100 per cent caught.”
“They are making up stuff,” he answers. “Don’t say this stuff on the phone…It’s, like, easily recorded.”
Later, Yahya takes the phone and speaks to her surviving children. She tells them not to cry, and asks if they’ve eaten. “Just tell them what they want,” she says, referring to the police. “At no time did I do something like this and at no time did this happen. Let them take us wherever they want.”
Before hanging up, Hamed has another conversation with one of the children, who mentions that the police asked whether Zainab complained about her father. “I was like: ‘Yeah, but you know, I used to do the most bad stuff and all that, but they didn’t kill me.’ ”
The call ends at 3:57 a.m. Five hours later, Hamed and his father are in the back of a police car. It, too, is equipped with a listening device.
“Don’t worry, my son,” Shafia says.
“I’m not worrying, only about my mother,” Hamed answers.
“It’s OK, my son.”
“It’s not difficult for me,” he says. “She might lose her mind.”
Shafia, as always, blames his daughters. “Your poor mother. May God’s fury descend on those girls.”
As the car steers toward Kingston police headquarters, 300 km away, there are fleeting moments when Shafia sounds like the good father. He urges his son to have a drink of water (“It’s no good if you don’t eat,” he says) and tries to assure him that things will work out. “We haven’t done anything wrong. They did it themselves…Our own children brought this ruin.”
When Hamed points out that “we may not be able to see [each other] again,” the response is typical Shafia.
“I commend you to God, my son.”
The trial continues Tuesday morning.