|Christie Blatchford: ‘This is Canada. Do not be afraid,’ relative told alleged honour killing victim Christie Blatchford Nov 28, 2011 – 7:53 PM ET |
“Don’t be afraid. This is not Afghanistan,” a relative testified she told Rona Amir Mohammad, who was scared for her safety.
KINGSTON, Ont. — It was Hamed and Mohammad Shafia who in unison repeatedly dabbed at their eyes in the prisoner’s box here Monday, but there were likely many in the courtroom who during the course of the day would have happily joined them.
From time to time, the trial of this Afghan-Canadian family, for a variety of reasons, could reduce anyone to tears — sometimes of sorrow, sometimes of near-hysteria. The evidence occasionally careens from one extreme to the other within minutes.
The Mssrs. Shafia appeared to weep when slides taken at the autopsies of their alleged victims were shown to Ontario Superior Court Judge Robert Maranger and the jurors presiding at the murder trial, which has become a hot ticket in this eastern Ontario city.
Father and son Shafia, now 58 and 20, are jointly charged with Tooba Mohammad Yahya, respectively their wife and mother, with four counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of their intimates.
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Ms. Yahya, as befits one who has shrouded herself in the cloak of a delicate flower, was absent from court at her own request during the showing of the slides from the autopsy room and indeed for the testimony of forensic pathologist Dr. Christopher Milroy.
The 41-year-old mother has absented herself before during the trial.
Mohammad Shafia, Tooba Mohammad Yahya and their son Hamed
She, her husband and son are pleading not guilty in the drowning deaths of three Shafia sisters — Zainab, Sahar and Geeti, who were 19, 17 and 13 — and the other Shafia wife, 52-year-old Rona Amir Mohammad, who was routinely presented in Canada as an aunt.
Their bodies were found on June 30, 2009, in a submerged black Nissan discovered at the bottom of the Kingston Mills locks.
Three pictures from the autopsy of each victim were shown to the jurors — the first in sealed white body bags; the second, fully clothed on the autopsy table; and the third a close-up of the curious fresh bruises all but Sahar had on the crowns of their heads.
The latter shots were of necessity graphic but hardly ghastly, certainly not as evocative as the picture of the lovely Geeti in her sweet knee-length jeans, or of the small girl-items (hair bands and clips, earrings, belly-button jewellery, rings) Dr. Milroy noted, removed and handed to Kingston Police.
For the record, Dr. Milroy, who has multiple degrees (forensic pathology, law and philosophy) is so preposterously well-educated he could testify, prosecute and then ponder deeply on the case all by his lonesome.
He found that the four women drowned to death; that elaborate toxicology tests showed no evidence they were drugged; that the bruising to three of the victims, significant in Ms. Amir’s case, could have led to unconsciousness but there’s no way to know if it did; allowed it is “unlikely” the three would have similar injuries to their heads and no other injuries, and said there is no way to tell where, in what sequence or by what mechanism they drowned.
Then Dr. Milroy uttered the four words that given Ontario’s checkered history in such matters could be considered shocking.
He was being asked if there was anything in his findings that could tell him whether or not the three girls and Ms. Amir were drowned elsewhere and put back in the Nissan in which their bodies were found.
“From a pathological perspective,” he said, “I can’t include or exclude the possibility.”
Then, the words that would shake the disgraced Ontario pathologist Dr. Charles Smith to the core — Dr. Smith saw himself as part of the prosecution team and often testified as such, with wrongful convictions sometimes the result — Dr. Milroy added, “The pathology is neutral.”
Following him to the witness box was a relative of Ms. Amir’s who can’t yet be identified.
Rona and Sahar
Little has been heard about Ms. Amir at trial — except that she couldn’t have children, which is what led Mr. Shafia to marry Ms. Yahya — so the relative’s testimony was keenly anticipated.
The witness, however, speaks no English, only Dari/Farsi (the languages are virtually the same, as American English is to British) and French, and to say she is garrulous and speaks at a great rate is akin to saying le train grand vitesse goes fast.
Even the spelling of her name, not usually a difficult task for these skilled translators, was virtually unattainable. She apparently has eight siblings, but in the giving of their names the list added up to about 16.
She did, however, dispel one of Mr. Shafia’s least appetizing claims: He has always maintained he and Ms. Amir were never married.
Well, this lady attended both his weddings, both conveniently held, about a decade apart, at Kabul’s Intercontinental Hotel.
She also said — o charming Afghan custom! — that it was Ms. Amir who asked the family of Ms. Yahya for her hand because Mr. Shafia so desperately needed children.
She also said in the last months of her life, Ms. Amir was unhappy, often calling to complain about her life, and that she told her she’d overhead a conversation among the parents and Hamed, during which Mr. Shafia threatened to kill Zainab, who in April of 2009 had run away to a women’s shelter, and “the other one,” which Ms. Amir took to mean her.
But because the Dari/Farsi languages have no separate male and female pronouns — essentially, everyone is referred to as male, it apparently being the only worthy sex — she can’t be sure if it was Ms. Yahya who asked about “the other one” or Hamed.
This matter was settled only after the witness had nattered on over the protestations of the lawyers and judge, as she did many times.
Dari/Farsi are sufficiently imprecise languages, the witness’s speaking speed so breakneck, and the interpreter so overwhelmed that several times, references to her maternal uncle were translated as “my maternal ankle.”
In any case, the relative told Ms. Amir, “Don’t be afraid. This is not Afghanistan. This is not Dubai. This is Canada. Do not be afraid; nothing will happen.”
As with so much else at this trial, one hardly knew whether to laugh or to cry.