Boyfriend tells Shafia trial teen feared parents

A Montreal teenager was terrified her parents would find out about her boyfriend in the months before they allegedly killed her and her two sisters to save the Muslim family's honour, a Kingston court heard Tuesday.
Rona Mohammad, seen with Sahar Shafia in a cellphone photo, told a relative she was afraid and worried about her situation in the weeks leading up to her death. (Trial evidence)

A Montreal teenager was terrified her parents would find out about her boyfriend in the months before they allegedly killed her and her two sisters to save the Muslim family's honour, a Kingston court heard Tuesday.

In testimony to Ontario Superior Court, the boyfriend testified about the furtive but intense relationship he and Sahar Shafia developed in the four months before she drowned.

"I can't love anybody more beautiful then you because you are like the air that I breathe every morning," he said in a text found later on the dead teen's cellphone.

"If I had the moon, the sun, the sky or the sea or the stars at this moment, I would give all of it to you, my love."

The couple were introduced in early 2009 by Sahar's older sister, Zainab, and quickly became "very serious."

They talked about getting married and leaving the country because Sahar's parents would not have approved.

Once, a relative of Sahar's spotted them embracing in a restaurant, and demanded to know about their relationship, court heard.

Sahar, 17, acted "like a person that's scared," the boyfriend said.

"She was scared of her family because they would find out about our relationship," said the witness, who cannot be identified under court order.

"Can you imagine if her father had known?"

He said he even grabbed another girl and kissed her in an effort to allay suspicions that he and Sahar were in fact an item.

Within six weeks, he would finally meet Sahar's parents and brother Hamed for the first time.

It was at the sisters' wake — days after his frantic calls and texts to a dead Sahar went to her answering machine.

On June 30, 2009, Sahar, 17, was found in a black Nissan Sentra submerged in a canal just outside Kingston, Ont. With her were the bodies of her sisters, Geeti, 13, and Zainab Shafia, 19.

Also in the car was Rona Amir Mohammad, 52, the first wife of the girls' father.

The Crown alleges Mohammad Shafia, 58, an Afghan businessman, Tooba Yahya, 41, the mother of the dead girls, and their son Hamed, 20, killed the four on the way home from a trip to Niagara Falls, Ont., because they believed they were dishonouring the family.

All have pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, and have cast the drownings as accidental.

Earlier Tuesday, a relative by marriage testified that Mohammad would not leave home or go to police for fear Shafia would kill her.

In her testimony, Fahimah Vorgetts said Mohammad grew increasingly desperate in the year before she was found drowned in the canal.

"Almost every time she called, she would be crying and crying," Vorgetts testified.

"She said that if she leaves the house, if she goes to the police, her husband would kill her."

Vorgetts, an Afghan women's rights activist who now lives in Virginia, said she tried to persuade Mohammad to leave Shafia.

But in a series of furtive pay-phone calls, Mohammad said she had no status in Canada, had no documents because Shafia kept them all, and worried about being sent back to Afghanistan where his relatives would kill her.

"I did say, 'You're not in Afghanistan; the law here will protect you,"' Vorgetts testified.

Calling from a park pay phone because she could not call from home, Mohammad told Vorgetts that Shafia had kicked her and pulled her hair.

She also talked about how Yahya would humiliate her constantly in front of the children and guests.

"You are no wife. You are a slave. You are a servant," Yahya would tell Mohammad, Vorgetts testified.

Under cross-examination, Vorgetts said she took no steps herself to call police, saying that it was Mohammad's decision to make, not hers.

In May 2009, Vorgetts returned from a trip to Afghanistan to find messages from Mohammad on her answering machine.

"They were desperate messages. It sounded like she was in big trouble. It sounded like she needed big help now. It sounded like she wanted to do something," she said.

"Then, I heard that she was dead."

Sister wants justice

The testimony followed that of Mohammad's sister, Diba Abdaili Masoomi, who told the court that she didn’t alert authorities about Mohammad's fears because she lived in Canada, not their native Afghanistan.

"In Afghanistan anything can happen. There is no law in Afghanistan. The women and children are dying," Masoomi testified.

"This is Canada. It's a developed country. Nothing like this will happen."

The sister said Mohammad described over the phone increasing abuse in her Montreal home, and fear for her life and the lives of children in the Shafia family in the weeks leading up to their deaths.

Masoomi told the court she wanted justice for her sister.

A day earlier, court heard Masoomi describe conversations she had with Mohammad, including allegations that she was treated poorly by Yahya and was physically abused in front of the children by Shafia.

Defence lawyers questioned specifics about her testimony during cross-examination, but Masoomi insisted she had told the truth.

"What I’m saying is true. I swear on the Qur'an," Masoomi told the court through a translator.

"If I lie, I go to hell. You have to believe me."