Truth, Justice and the Canadian Way – on the end of the Shafia trial

Shafia trial
Coat of Arms of Canada
Image via Wikipedia

Yesterday, Canada sent a strong message to immigrants who think they can import illegal practices from their home country and expect to be treated leniently by the law. A trial conducted simultaneously in English, Farsi and Dari (essentially the same, their differences akin to British and American English), that heard testimonies from experts in Afghan cultural beliefs and practices, finally reached its conclusion as the jury returned a guilty verdict.

Every effort was made by the authorities to ensure a fair trial unencumbered by language barriers and cultural misunderstandings. The same could not be said of the accused, whose contradictory accounts of events and frequent lectures on the righteousness and morality of the Afghan culture made the whole process feel like pulling teeth.

It has been a sad and sorry tale of inter-generational conflict and family dysfunction that has held the attention of the Canadian media ever since the trial began back in October. A wealthy Afghan family who lived in Pakistan, Dubai and Australia before settling in Montreal, the Shafia clan consisted of Mohammad Shafia, his first wife Rona, second wife Tooba and seven children from the second marriage. Mohammad, Tooba and Hamed, 21, their eldest son, stood accused of the murder of Rona and the three eldest daughters, Zainab, Sahar and Geeti; 19, 17 and thirteen respectively,  at the time of their death in June 2009.

You can read the details here for yourself. The crime committed carries the unfortunate misnomer of an “Honour Killing” – though anyone with a conscience knows there is no honour in cold-blooded murder. It seems Rona died because she was of no use, being unable to bear children. She was admitted to Canada on a visitor’s visa, and although she was Shafia’s first wife, she was listed as a cousin. The three girls were integrating too well into everyday Canadian life, living like your average Canadian teenager, far removed from the repressive, sexist place in society traditional Afghan culture reserves for females. They went out, mixed with boys and wore tight-fitting clothing, as girls on the cusp of womanhood are prone to do in the Western hemisphere. For this, they paid with their lives.

shafia victims

The entire trial has been conducted sensitively, without demonizing muslims or their religion, clearly stating that the beliefs and practices evinced by the actions of the accused arose from cultural not religious beliefs. This has been reflected in the newspaper reporting of the case, which has been measured and objective – not a single lurid Islamophobic headline in sight.

Taken in conjunction with the recent ban from Jason Kenny – Canada’s minister for Immigration, on women wearing face-veils at their citizenship pledge, this serves only to underline Canada’s refreshingly pragmatic approach to cultural differences and how they are handled.

Tact, sensitivity and above all, common sense are worth far more than any politically correct lip-service.

Whitby Shores, Whitby, Ontario

By Aisha Ashraf

An autistic Irish immigrant in a cross-cultural marriage, Aisha Ashraf is the archetypal outlander, writing to root herself through place and perspective. Published in The Rumpus, The Maine Review, River Teeth, HuffPost and elsewhere, her work explores the legacy of trauma, the nature of being an outsider and the narrow confines of belonging. She currently lives in Canada.


  1. Was wondering whether you’d write about this horrific crime as it has been a topic of conversation at our dinner table. So glad you did, and with tact, sensitivity and respect, I might add. Especially love the clear differentiation between cultural and religious. Too many people (on both sides of arguments) confuse the two.

    1. I’m afraid I can’t put into words even half of what these crimes have made me feel – there are so many areas: control, misogyny and the low value placed on women and their standing in society, religious misrepresentation, the difficulties of adolescence, cultural adjustment… the list goes on and on. But the confusion between culture and religion is something that strikes a chord with me and my situation. As an adult convert to Islam (as opposed to being born into it) I learnt about and researched the religion. Although always open to ways in which I can better understand it, I found myself constantly judged by cultural not religious standards. No one culture has the monopoly on being a “good Muslim”.

  2. What a tragic story. This is completely horrific and yet Canada has clearly handled it with amazing sensitivity. I don’t want to put my cultural background on other people but then again, there are some things that must be right/wrong for all people, no matter the culture? The bottom line is that this family were living in Canada and so must accept the laws of the country, just as anyone must in their host country.

    What a well written post, so interesting reading about this from you.

    1. Thank you Michelle, you encapsulated it perfectly! And whether it bears the label “honour Killing”or domestic violence it is still unequivocally murder and an abuse of power.

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