Muslim community grapples with Shafia verdict

Leaders in Canada's Islamic community are saying the Shafia quadruple-murder trial was fundamentally about domestic violence rather than so-called honour killings, a day after a Kingston, Ont., jury convicted all three of the accused in the case.

Abhorrence of murder not just a 'Canadian value,' Muslim leaders says

Tooba Mohammad Yahya, husband Mohammad Shafia and their son Hamed are escorted into the Frontenac County Court House in Kingston, Ont., on Oct. 20, 2011. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Leaders in Canada's Islamic community are saying the Shafia quadruple-murder trial was fundamentally about domestic violence rather than so-called honour killings, a day after a Kingston, Ont., jury convicted all three of the accused in the case.

"The jurors and the court have done their job. Our job as community leaders and members of society is that we have to be very clear about our position on domestic violence and such crimes," said Imam Sikander Hashmi, with the Islamic Society of Kingston. "We need to speak very strongly, and we need to take concrete action."

On Sunday, a jury in Kingston, Ont., found a Montreal couple and their son guilty of first-degree murder in the deaths of four family members. Mohammad Shafia, his wife Tooba Yahya and their son Hamed, were each handed an automatic life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years.

Patrick McCann, Hamed Shafia's lawyer, said Monday that his client will make an appeal, adding that he believes Hamed's parents will as well.

Justice Minister reacts to verdict:

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson spoke during question period on Monday about the government's view on the Shafia verdict:

"So-called honour killings are barbaric and unacceptable and have no place in Canada. We are committed to protecting women and other vulnerable persons from all forms of violence and to hold offenders accountable for their acts.

In Canada, Mr. Speaker, murder is murder regardless of the motive. Our government is always focused primarily on the rights of victims and not on the twisted rationale offered by convicted murders.

We send the message loudly and clearly, if you commit such terrible acts of violence in Canada, you will face Canadian justice."

They were accused of drowning Hamed's three teenage sisters and his father's first wife from a polygamous marriage, in what the judge described as crimes stemming from a "twisted concept of honour."

Hashmi said the conclusion of the three-month trial has been met with "relief" and "a lot of sadness" among members of Ontario's and Quebec's Muslim community.

"It was just so tragic in so many ways," he told CBC News from Kingston, Ont. "So I think now there's probably some relief that this is finally over and hopefully we can move on."

Hashmi said imams will continue to speak out against domestic violence, and that there is sadness for the three remaining Shafia siblings, who face a life without their parents and older brother, and without their three older sisters.

Samira Kanji, president of the Noor Cultural Centre in Toronto, warned on Monday against "focusing unduly" on the purported honour-killing motive, saying that "honour or not, it's a murder and it's going to be treated as murder" by the courts.

She also called the murders a breach of religious ethics, and took issue with the judge who presided over the trial for saying the verdict sends a clear message about "Canadian values."

"I don't think the value of life is uniquely Canadian or uniquely Western — I think it's a universal value," Kanji said. "To that extent, his putting it in those terms was problematic."

"It offended me, for a start."

High-profile case

The Shafia trial garnered international attention as the Crown outlined its theory that the three teenage Shafia sisters were killed for bringing shame on the family by dating, shunning traditional religious garb and skipping school.

The fourth victim, the family patriarch's first wife in a polygamous marriage, allegedly endured years of abuse and feared for her life in the weeks before she died.

The trial included chilling evidence from the Crown suggesting that the three accused conspired to push a car carrying all four victims into a canal near Kingston in June 2009.

In December, about five weeks after the Shafia trial had begun, Islamic religious leaders banded together to denounce so-called honour killings in the country's mosques and to educate Muslims about the call for gender equality at the heart of their faith.

Syed Soharwardy, a Calgary-based imam who founded the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada, said that "honour killings" are explicitly condemned in the Qur'an, but such values sometimes take root in remote regions of Muslim countries where education is limited and scriptural doctrine is misinterpreted.

'Ignorant' to blame Islam

Miriam Issa, a Muslim woman who moved to Windsor, Ont., from Somalia nearly 20 years ago, said it makes no sense to use Islam to explain the actions behind the Shafia tragedy.

"This is absolutely against Islam and it's ignorant to use Islam to justify these crimes," she said, adding that she feels the Shafia case underscores the broader problem of violence against women.

"Whether you call it an honour killing or a crime of passion, it's just wrong and it's unacceptable, and it's about time we put an end to this kind of practice," Issa said.

She and Reema Khan, who moved to Canada from Pakistan a year ago, were among the women in Windsor's Muslim community who questioned the public focus on religion as a link to the murders.

Khan said some households tend to hold on to traditional patriarchal views, but that the "core" issue is that of violence against women.

"In the case of this family, when they came to Canada and the daughters were beginning to integrate into behaviour that was not acceptable [to their family], it was a threat to the patriarchal structure of the family," Khan said.

"Essentially, honour killing is just violence against women."

With files from The Canadian Press