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Honour on Trial: The Shafia Murders and the Culture of Honour Killings

If you were listening to the radio in the Thousand Islands, on the morning of June 20, 2009 you would have heard that a car was found submerged in the Kingston Mills lock, only 7.5 kilometers (5 miles) north of Kingston, Ontario, and the St. Lawrence River. By day’s end, people were shocked to learn that the car was the watery grave of four women from Montreal Zainab(18),  Sahar(17), Geeti (13), and Rona (50).

Events in the early hours of June 30 became the responsibility of the Kingston Police Force and eventually lawyers, a jury and a judge.

Concern expressed by teachers, friends, and family members from Montreal, and Afghanistan, led to the appalling explanation that honour killings had taken place. On July 22, the girl’s parents, and brother, were arrested. The mother (Tooba Mohammad Yahya) , the father (Mohammad Shafia), and their son (Hamed,18), were charged with four counts of murder – the three daughters and Rona, Mohammed’s first wife.

“Honour Killing” is used to describe killings when a victim has brought perceived shame or dishonor to a family or community.  The Crown made a point to explain this concept throughout the trial.

In September 2012 local Kingston author, Paul Schliesmann, a reporter for the Kingston Whig Standard launch his book Honour on Trial: The Shafia Murders and the Culture of Honour Killings.   A book that details exactly what the jury heard each day in the courtroom and more.

Radio talk shows and Canadian book award judges soon recognized the value of Schliesmann’s work for he not only describes what led to the parent’s decision, it takes us though the month-long investigation by the Kingston Police Force which did a thorough, and first-rate job. His book not only rivals any episode of “Law and Order” or “CSI”, it surpasses the expectation of readers of the true-crime genre.

In his introduction he writes, “The media is ravenous beast and, in the Internet age, never sleep.  It is not unusual for me to start the day by giving a radio report from home, a telephone update for television somewhere along the road to the courthouse, then spend the morning listening to testimony, typing out a lunchtime hit for the Web, hearing more testimony in the afternoon, and then writing a 1,500-word story for the next day’s edition.” 

The three-month trial ended Sunday January 29, 2012 when the jury found the Shafia family members guilty of first-degree murder - first degree murder carries an automatic sentence of life in prison without a possibility of parole for 25 years.

In his last chapter, Schliesmann writes, “Mohammad Tooba, and Hamid have appealed their conviction. Occasionally, a small bouquet of flowers will appear near the side of the lock at Kingston mills where the black Nissan plunged into the waters of the Rideau Canal and four women lot their lives. They are gone but not forgotten. A women’s shelter in Kingston is working to install a plaque at the lock station to remember them. The Kingston branch of Canadians for Women in Afghanistan, which fundraises for education projects in that country, announced a special education grant created in the names of Rona, Zainab, Sahar, and Geeti…”

Schleismann’s book makes us stop and consider more than just an investigation, a trial and a summation, it makes us realize that murder is not justified under any circumstances and that Honour Killing is an oxymoron.

By Susan W. Smith,

Honour on Trial: The Shafia Murders and the Culture of Honour Killings by Paul Schliesmann, is published by Fitzhenry & Whiteside. ISBN 978-1-55455-278-8.  2012 visit for more information.  It is available in local Kingston book shops and on Honour on Trial

Posted in: Book Review
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Joan Russell
Comment by: Joan Russell ( )
Left at: 9:41 PM Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Susie, for me, the lock at Kingston Mills is like a holy place, in the sense that it inspires reverence, and connects us to the spirit of those who went before us. I always take visitors to this part of the world to see it, to marvel at its natural beauty, its design, and its function. The actions of the three convicted killers desecrated this place just as surely as if they had committed these crimes in a church or in a mosque or synagogue. These acts were driven by hatred of women, and I - and others - would argue that the term "honour" crime - although widely used - is not only an oxymoron, it is a misnomer.
Bruce Sherman
Comment by: Bruce Sherman ( )
Left at: 9:04 AM Friday, December 14, 2012
Hi Susie!... I lived and taught in Kingston for over twenty-five years. I have always been proud of the fact the Kingston represents itself as a perfect example of what the "The Canadian Cutural Mosaic" can become... a model for all of Canada to build upon.

I painted many times at Kingston Mills and took my students there to understand better how Kingston developed to become the city of historical and cultural richness that it is today. Walk about the campus in Kingston and you will observe that the phrase "cultural mosaic"... is more than a mouthful of words.

It provides evidence and Hope... that the mindlessness of such acts as "honour killing"... dragged into our midst by medieval mentalities (allowed to enter)... will be punished under the very laws they agreed to embrace when they were given refuge trhrough and the opportunity to live peaceful lives under!

Thank you for sharing this story with others... who might think as all Canadians should...and wish the same justice... safety... freedom of choice and opportunity for our own children!!

Warmest regards,