Shafia trial tainted by honour killing expert testimony: lawyers argue

TORONTO -- A father, mother and son, who were convicted of murdering the couple's three daughters and another family member, have asked Ontario's highest court for new trials, arguing the original one had been tainted by "highly prejudicial" testimony on so-called honour killings.

See Full Article

Mohammad Shafia, his wife Tooba Yahya and their son Hamed were convicted in January 2012 of four counts of first-degree murder -- killings their trial judge described as being motivated by their "twisted concept of honour."

But the trio's lawyers argued Thursday that testimony from a Crown expert on so-called honour killings should not have been allowed and was among several errors made by the trial judge.

"That type of evidence is flat out prohibited," lawyer Frank Addario told a panel of three appeal court judges. "She should not have been permitted to tell (the jury) how honour killings are typically carried out or read out denunciations on honour killings."

The Shafia family was originally from Afghanistan but fled at the outbreak of war in the country and eventually immigrated to Canada.

In June 2009, the bodies of Shafia and Yahya's daughters -- Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17, and Geeti, 13 -- and Shafia's first wife in a polygamous marriage, 52-year-old Rona Amir Mohammad, were found in a car at the bottom of the Rideau Canal in Kingston, Ont.

The Crown at the trial asserted the murders were committed after the girls "shamed" the family by dating and acting out, and Amir Mohammad was simply disposed of.

In making their case, the Crown called Shahzrad Mojab, a professor whose research focuses primarily on violence against women particularly in the Middle East.

Mojab's evidence involved "stereotypically reasoning about Afghani Muslims," Addario argued, while her testimony on how honour killings are typically carried out had "zero legal relevance."

"Its probative value was outweighed by its prejudicial value," he said. "A Canadian jury is perfectly capable of understanding that men of all ethnicities will sometimes hurt female family members for misguided reasons of honour, without the assistance of expert evidence."

Lawyers for Shafia, Yahya and Hamed also argued the trial judge did not properly assess the admissibility of certain hearsay statements made by the four victims before their death, and didn't instruct the jury properly on them.

They further argued the trial judge erred by not providing sufficient direction to the jury on the Crown's theory that Yahya could be found guilty of murder on the basis that her alleged failure to protect her children from her husband made her causally responsible for their deaths.

An additional twist to the joint appeal came in an argument made by Hamed's lawyer, who asked the court to admit fresh evidence which he said proves his client was only 17 -- a minor -- and not 18 and a half at the time of his siblings' deaths.

"We have evidence that is reasonably capable of belief," Scott Hutchison said as he asked for Hamed to be treated as a youth by the justice system. "In my submission you must give effect to the fresh evidence, set aside the conviction and order a new trial."

Hutchison said that at the time of the trial, Hamed didn't know that he could be a year younger than he thought he was and neither did his father or his trial counsel.

In explaining the issue, Hutchison urged the court to be mindful of a "casualness" associated with birth dates in Afghan and Middle Eastern communities.

The issue only came to light when -- after being sentenced to life in prison -- Hamed's father wanted to transfer property in Afghanistan and asked someone in the country to prepare necessary paperwork, court heard.

That person discovered Shafia's original Afghan identity document -- known as a "tazkira" -- which recorded his birth date as Dec. 31, 1991 -- making him a year younger than initially thought, Hutchison told the court.

To resolve the discrepancy, a certificate of live birth was obtained from an Afghan ministry, which turned out to have the same date, and the Afghan government also issued a document confirming the tazkira, Hutchison said.

The three documents together are key evidence, Hutchison said.

"There would be a temptation for some to think of this as a technicality," he said. "Age in so far as it relates to young people is not a technicality, it is a principle of fundamental justice....We do not treat young people the same way we treat adults."

An adult convicted of first-degree murder faces life without parole for 25 years, while a young offender, when sentenced as an adult, faces a maximum of life without parole for 10 years.

If a new trial for Shafia before a youth court could not be obtained, Hutchison asked the panel of judges to order that Shafia be granted a new sentencing hearing under the YCJA, or order that he should have his sentence reduced.

Crown lawyers argued, however, that the documents at the heart of Hamed's new claim were entirely unreliable.

Even if the appeal court accepted the questionable documents, they argued, that ought not to change the outcome of Hamed's trial.

"You can admit this evidence and it doesn't undermine the factual underpinning of the verdict one iota," said Crown lawyer Gillian Roberts. "Greater emphasis should be placed on protecting the integrity of the criminal justice system."



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Explosions reported at Ariana Grande concert in Manchester

    World News Toronto Sun
    LONDON — Several people have died following reports of an explosion Monday night at an Ariana Grande concert in northern England, police said. A representative said the singer was not injured. There were no immediate details of what happened during the concert by the American singer, but police advised the public to avoid the area around the Manchester Arena. Source
  • First World War replica bi-plane squadron to fly coast-to-coast

    Canada News CTV News
    Allan Snowie admits his goggles did “mist up” on his first pass over the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in a First World War replica bi-plane ahead of the recent 100th anniversary of the pivotal battle. Source
  • 'Number of confirmed fatalities' at Ariana Grande concert in U.K., say police

    World News CBC News
    Police say there have been a "number of confirmed fatalities" and injuries after an explosion at the Manchester Arena in northern England, where U.S. pop star Ariana Grande was giving a concert. Police statement on incident at Manchester Arena pic.twitter.com/gaKASukx9a— @gmpolice Source
  • 'Confirmed fatalities' after serious incident at Ariana Grande show in U.K.

    World News CTV News
    Police in Manchester, U.K., say there are “a number of confirmed fatalities” after reports of an explosion at Manchester Arena, where American singer Ariana Grande performed Monday night. No details were immediately available, but people in the area have reported hearing loud bangs that sounded like explosions. Source
  • 8-year-old boy who died in Rushing River was from Winnipeg

    Canada News CBC News
    An eight-year-old boy who died while vacationing with his family in Rushing River Provincial Park over the holiday weekend was from Winnipeg. Ontario Provincial Police were called to the park, about 75 kilometres east of the Manitoba border, after the boy was reported missing around 9:45 p.m. Source
  • Dad of Times Square crash victim leaves note at her memorial

    World News CTV News
    NEW YORK -- The father of a Michigan tourist killed by an out-of-control driver in Times Square left a note at a memorial for his daughter, thanking New Yorkers for their support and saying her loss was a hole in his heart "that can never be filled. Source
  • Female inmate at Ontario jail dies after being found unresponsive in cell

    Canada News CBC News
    A woman who was found unresponsive in her cell at the South West Detention Centre just outside Windsor, Ont., has died. The woman was found by correctional staff who performed first aid until an ambulance arrived, according to Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services spokesperson Andrew Morrison. Source
  • Man set afire during Venezuela protest as death toll rises

    World News CTV News
    CARACAS, Venezuela -- Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is accusing protesters of setting fire to a government supporter, saying what he calls "Nazi-fascist" elements are taking root inside the opposition's ranks and contributing to a dangerous spiral of violence in the two-month anti-government protest movement. Source
  • Hugo Chavez's childhood home burned by protesters: lawmaker

    World News CTV News
    CARACAS, Venezuela -- Protesters set late President Hugo Chavez's childhood home in western Venezuela on fire Monday afternoon, an opposition lawmaker said, as protests against the nation's socialist government grew increasingly hostile. Demonstrators lit the house in the city of Barinas where Chavez spent his early years aflame along with several government buildings, including the regional office of the National Electoral Council, said Pedro Luis Castillo, a legislator who represents the…
  • Over 31 million people internally displaced in 2016: report

    World News CTV News
    Internally displaced civilians, who fled their homes during fighting between Iraqi security forces and Islamic State group, receive humanitarian aids at Amariyah Fallujah, Iraq, Saturday, June 25, 2016. (AP / Khalid Mohammed) Source