Should the Shafia murders be called 'honour killings'?
After a gruelling 10-week trial, the Shafia murder case is closed but the language used in court continues to haunt many in Canada's Islamic community.
Mohammad Shafia, 58, his wife Tooba Yahya, 42, and their son Hamed, 21, were each found guilty Sunday of killing the Shafias' three daughters and the older man's first wife.
At issue is the Crown's argument that the deaths were so-called "honour killings," murders intended to restore family dignity after the women's perceived rebellious behaviour.
Justice Robert Maranger alluded to this notion on Sunday when he told the Afghanistan-born family that the women were killed because they "offended your completely twisted concept of honour…that has absolutely no place in any civilized society."
The weight of these words, however, has concerned many that this interpretation of the Shafia deaths will only further marginalize a community that is still enduring hateful sentiment related to the 9-11 terrorist attacks.
Alia Hogben of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women said the language around the Shafia verdict is distracting from the basic fact that four women were murdered.
Instead, she prefers the idea that the deaths were femicide.
"Femicide just simply means the killing of women and girls just because they're women and girls," she told CTV News Channel on Monday from a studio in Kingston, Ont.
The term stems from the patriarchal idea that men are the guardians of women and can do with them as they see fit, Hogben said.
Sisters Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17, and Geeti, 13, along with Shafia's other wife Rona Amir Mohammad, 52, were found dead in one of the family cars at the bottom of a Kingston canal in June 2009.
During the trial, the Crown buttressed its case with photos of the teenaged girls dressed in Western clothing and alleged the father was angry because the girls had boyfriends.
Court heard that Geeti tried to seek help from teachers and child protection authorities, complaining of verbal, emotional and physical abuse at home.
The convicted Shafia family members maintain their innocence and have vehemently denied the idea that the women were killed over family dignity.
Hogben said Canadians should stop focusing on the deaths as honour killings "because that makes it kind of exotic and different and therefore does not include them with all of us as Canadian women."
By viewing the deaths as a female issue, not only that implies ties to any specific cultural group, Hogben said Canadians can focus on how to protect women in the future.
But Rona Ambrose, Minister for Status of Women, told CTV's Power Play on Monday that honour killings are real.
"I think (the Shafia) trial in particular was a wake-up call to a lot of people that thought … honour-motivated violence doesn't exist in Canada," she said.
"It sends a message that this is real. We need to educate prosecutors, we need to educate police officers, social workers so they understand what this is about."
Ambrose said that's already happening in some Toronto women's shelters, where staff are learning about the phenomenon. Other programs for women and girls, such as those offered through the Indo-Canadian Women's Association, can also help, she said.
While honour killings are rare in Canada, honour-motivated violence against women is more prevalent, Ambrose said.
"Girls are being subjected to violence or intimidation because they wore jeans. This is the kind of thing that's difficult for Canadians to understand," she said.
"This is an issue and there've been a lot of very brave women in certain cultural communities who've come forward to say this is a problem, honour-motivated violence does exist and we have to address it," Ambrose said, noting that Indo-Canadian and Muslim communities are working with the government to address the issue.
Tarek Fatah, founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress and an outspoken critic of radical Islam, has expressed concern that certain communities are still not getting the message that this kind of violence is unacceptable in Canada. He has also said that political correctness is hindering a frank, public discussion of the issue.
Montreal Imam Khalil Tabatabai told CTV Montreal that Mohammad Shafia wasn't even a practicing Muslim because he didn't attend the Islamic centres in the city. Had Shafia sought advice and religious guidance, he would have been told that honour killings have no place in Islam, Tabatabai said.
Speaking to The Canadian Press, he also said the trio's crimes are "unforgivable" and inexcusable in any religion.
"Only people who have lost their brain do that... It's unbelievable," he said.
Fehmida Khan with Muslim Women of Quebec shares the idea that the deaths should be viewed differently.
In an interview with CTV Montreal, she said the Shafia deaths should be seen as domestic violence against women and child abuse.
Khan does, however, approve of the judge's final words to the family.
"The whole thing is so tragic," she said. "The words he used might be harsh but they were realistic words."
Judge Maranger referred to the murders as "cold-blooded" and "heinous" on Sunday. He went on to say that the killings were an "honourless crime."
Shortly after the Shafia women were found dead, Canada's justice department commissioned a report on so-called "honour killings" across the country.
The report states that at least a dozen of these types of killings were committed in Canada between 1999 and 2009, reported CTV Montreal's Caroline Van Vlaardingen, using a copy of the report that was obtained via an access-to-information request.
She said the report stresses that these crimes are not exclusive to any one religion or cultural group but are seen in many countries around the world.
As well, the report said the idea of killing for honour provides lawyers with a specific legal argument. By definition, the phrase implies that the crime has been planned within a family (often with a meeting) and the perpetrators don't feel or receive any negative stigma for the actions within their own communities.
Such a detailed definition, the report noted, could help protect victims when crimes like these go to court.
Still, the research found that several cultural communities are concerned that the phrase "honour killing" will stir anti-immigration sentiment.