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Father asked for help killing 'stubborn' daughter, trial hears

Tooba Mohammad Yahya, husband Mohammad Shafia and son Hamed Mohammed Shafia are escorted to court in Kinston last month.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Weeks before three sisters were found dead in a car at the bottom of a canal, their father asked a relative for help to drown his eldest daughter, calling her a prostitute for visiting a library, spending time with friends and dating, court heard Tuesday.

Mohammad Shafia, 58, called the relative – who can't be identified – in late May or early June, 2009, and told him he was going to make an excuse to be somewhere near water and then push Zainab, 19, in and let her drown, the relative testified. Court has heard the girls could not swim.

The relative said he called Mr. Shafia's wife, Tooba Mohammad Yahya, 41, and told her of Mr. Shafia's alleged plans, warning her not to go on any family trips.

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The bodies of Zainab and her sisters Sahar, 17, and Geeti, 13, were found inside a submerged car on June 30, 2009, in the Rideau Canal in Kingston, along with that of Rona Amir Mohammad, 50, the other of their father's two wives.

The Montreal family was on their way back from a trip to Niagara Falls.

Their parents – Ms. Yahya and Mr. Shafia – and the girls' brother, Hamed, 20, are on trial on four counts of first-degree murder each in the deaths. They have pleaded not guilty.

The relative testified Tuesday that he was so disturbed by the phone call from Mr. Shafia that he hung up on him and called other family members to warn them.

"He told me Zainab, she is a stubborn lady and she doesn't listen to me," the relative quoted Mr. Shafia as saying. "She keeps going to library and [on the]Internet. … She doesn't work at home. She goes outside and she has Canadian, other friends and she has contact with them and she has contact with a Pakistani guy and she wants to marry him and these are the reasons I want to kill her. This is against custom and our culture."

On the phone call, Mr. Shafia called Zainab "prostitute" and "whore," the relative said.

"This is [an]… ugly word in our culture because no one is allowed to use it against someone else, but especially against your children. No one is using that," the relative testified.

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The family is originally from Afghanistan, but left that country in 1992 and lived in Pakistan, Dubai and Australia before moving to Canada in 2007.

The Crown alleges the four were killed to preserve the family honour.

The relative suggested that other than Zainab, the only motive to kill the others was simply that they would have talked.

The trial resumed Tuesday morning after abruptly adjourning Thursday because one of the accused, apparently Mr. Shafia, was taken to hospital the night before. In court that day, he wept as he watched the video of police interrogating Ms. Yahya the day they were arrested.

Minutes after the trial resumed Tuesday with the rest of Ms. Yahya's interrogation video, Mr. Shafia again buried his head in his hands and appeared to cry.

In the second half of the interrogation video, which the jury watched Tuesday morning, a police officer repeatedly suggests to Ms. Yahya that her three daughters and Rona Amir Mohammad were already unconscious before the car they were in plunged into the canal.

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The interrogator, RCMP Inspector Shahin Mehdizadeh, who was brought in to conduct the interview in Farsi, asks Ms. Yahya several times how none of the four people managed to escape from the car as it slowly moved toward the water, got hung up on the edge of the canal, was allegedly pushed in, then sank.

"If you think, you are sitting here right now, I push you and throw you into the water, you just sit and do nothing and wait to get drowned?" Insp. Mehdizadeh asks. "It's impossible, madam. Even if you sleep on the chair, you will wake up."

Ms. Yahya says maybe they were unconscious but asks why the autopsies haven't shown anything. Court has heard the autopsies concluded the cause of death for all four was drowning, but it couldn't be determined if they had drowned in the canal or elsewhere.

Insp. Mehdizadeh says there are some substances that don't necessarily show up on tests, but Ms. Yahya says she would never poison her children.

The family originally told police that Zainab took the keys when they stopped at a motel in Kingston for the night and must have taken the car for a joyride that ended tragically.

During the interrogation, Ms. Yahya eventually tells Insp. Mehdizadeh that she, her husband and her son were in fact there when the car went into the canal, and that Mr. Shafia must have done it because she fainted, and her son might have fainted, too.

Yet, Insp. Mehdizadeh says, nobody went to the police until the next morning to file a missing persons report, despite knowing that the car had plunged into the water.

"Is this honour, madam?" Insp. Mehdizadeh asks. "Didn't you do anything for them? Nobody did anything to stop them? Four people died and everybody just watched them. Everybody just fainted."

Insp. Mehdizadeh shows Ms. Yahya cellphone records that he says indicate Sahar was on her cellphone non-stop for most of the trip, then after they stopped at a McDonald's near Ajax, Ont., the cellphone activity abruptly ends.

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