Mother convicted in Shafia daughters' canal killings granted 5-hour escorted absence from prison

The woman convicted for her role in the so-called "honour killings" of her three daughters and her husband's first wife a decade ago has been granted an escorted temporary absence from prison to visit her mother's grave.

Tooba Yahya allowed to visit mother’s grave 'for humanitarian and compassionate reasons'

Tooba Yahya, seen here before her conviction, was found guilty of first-degree murder in the killing of three of her daughters and her husband's first wife. She is currently serving a life sentence in a medium-security institution. (The Canadian Press)

The woman convicted for her role in the so-called honour killings of her three daughters and her husband's first wife a decade ago has been granted an escorted temporary absence from prison to visit her mother's grave.

The Parole Board of Canada says it approved Tooba Yahya's request "for humanitarian and compassionate reasons," because her risk of recidivism is low and because the security risk that the absence poses is "manageable." 

Yahya, along with her husband, Mohammad Shafia, and son Hamed, were found guilty of four counts of first-degree murder in Kingston, Ont., in January 2012 in a court case that attracted international attention.

The bodies of the three Shafia daughters — Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17, and Geeti, 13 — and Shafia's first wife, Rona Mohammad Amir, were found in the family's car, submerged in a lock on the Rideau Canal in Kingston on June 30, 2009.

The family, originally from Afghanistan, had moved to Montreal two years earlier.

The judge said the murders were committed in the name of a "notion of honour that is founded upon the domination and control of women, a sick notion of honour that has absolutely no place in any civilized society."

The jury heard that Shafia was furious with how his daughters dressed and behaved. Jurors heard recordings made after their deaths, where the girls' father called them "treacherous" and "whores."

Entries from Amir's diary were also presented during the trial, in which she wrote that Yahya "took the power of the household" from her and that Yahya was indifferent to a suicide attempt made by Sahar, the middle daughter.

Shafia had been married to both women, though the family had claimed that Amir was a cousin when she immigrated to Canada.

'You said that you could not save them'

Throughout the 2012 trial, the accused maintained they were never at the locks when the Nissan Sentra carrying the four victims plunged into the canal.

But at the hearing in which Yahya requested to visit her mother's grave, she offered a different version of those events.

"You confirmed that your husband, with the complicity of your son, committed the murder in front of your eyes," says the Parole Board of Canada decision, dated Sept. 10, which has been obtained by CBC News.

Yahya told the board that, on the night of the killings, she was in the Nissan with the victims while Shafia and Hamed went to find a motel in their Lexus SUV.

Mohammad Shafia, left, Yahya and their son Hamed are escorted into court on the first day of their trial in Kingston, Ont., in October 2011. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

According to Yahya's new story, Shafia told her to get in the Lexus when they returned. As he drove the SUV into the Nissan, she asked him what he was doing, and he replied he was "going to kill them."

She said that she tried to stop him from where she was sitting in the back seat, to no avail. He then rammed the Nissan a second time, plunging it into the water.

"At the hearing, you admitted that you are guilty for not protecting your children. You said that you could not save them," the decision says.

Yahya, Shafia and Hamed were sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years.

'Compliant, polite and respectful'

Yahya currently has a medium-security classification, but is seeking a transfer to a minimum-security institution.

The decision notes Yahya's "impeccable" behaviour in prison and that, after her appeal was dismissed in 2016, she has talked more openly about the killings. 

"Since the beginning of your incarceration, your behaviour has been impeccable. You are compliant, polite and respectful of the rules, staff members and other inmates," the decision says.

The ruling notes that Yahya has not been in touch with Shafia since she filed for divorce in 2017. Her husband has refused to sign the papers.

The Parole Board granted the absence to enable Yahya to visit the grave of her mother, who died last May. Yahya told the board that she wants to say goodbye, even though she is still angry at her mother for allowing her to wed a married man at the age of 17.

She said the graveside visit, which she wants to make with her children and brother, would be her first step toward her "social reintegration into society."

The date of the five-hour escorted temporary absence from prison was yet to be determined. It is not known where Yahya is being held, as the location of the prison was redacted in the documents.

With files from Melinda Dalton