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Sexual freedom a violation of the rules, Shafia trial told

It was all about control, this city's "honour killings" murder trial has heard.

And the catalyst in the "planned and deliberate" drowning of four Afghan-Canadian women was the decision by one of them to take refuge in a shelter, an act of defiance that gravely undermined male authority over the household's female members, the jury was told on Wednesday.

Ten weeks before she and the three others died at a Rideau Canal lock in June, 2009, Zainab Shafia, 19, ran away from home and checked into Montreal's Passages shelter. And that sealed the victims' fate, prosecutor Laurie Lacelle told the jury in closing arguments.

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"The evidence is overwhelming," she said, repeatedly referring to the testimony of Shahrzad Mojab, a University of Toronto expert on honour killings. "The people in charge of the Shafia family adhered to core values about honour, and those values had been violated."

When Zainab fled, aided by a young man she was dating, the house exploded into turmoil, Ms. Lacelle said, with the defendants frantic to find her.

"She might be in the arms of unapproved boyfriends. She might be having sex. Zainab had run away with a boy and she was now sexually compromised. And so was the family honour."

On trial, each charged with four counts of first-degree murder, are businessman Mohammad Shafia, 59, his second wife, Tooba Mohammad Yahya, 42, and their eldest son, Hamed, 21. They are accused of murdering three of the Shafia sisters and Mr. Shafia's first wife.

The other victims also threatened the Shafia status quo, the prosecutor said.

Sahar Shafia, 17, had an unauthorized boyfriend as well, which in her parents' eyes meant that "she too was a whore." The youngest victim, 13-year-old Geeti, was, "quite simply, uncontrollable … she didn't follow the rules, cultural or otherwise, and she made it clear she didn't want to be part of a family that imposed those rules."

As for the fourth victim, Rona Amir Mohammad, 53, "she was truly disposable, she wasn't wanted, she wasn't needed" by a husband and rival wife who had been "vicious and cruel to her."

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What the four women chiefly shared, the prosecutor said, was "a desperate desire to escape the Shafia household."

She mocked the defence theory outlined by Patrick McCann, lawyer for Hamed Shafia, that his client had made a "terrible, terrible decision" on the night his relatives drowned, rendering him both "stupid" and "morally blameworthy," but that he and the other two defendants are not guilty of murder.

The prosecution says the women ended up in the lock after the car they were in was pushed in, using the family's other car, after they were incapacitated or killed.

The defence, however, maintains they died accidentally after a late-night spin near the motel in which the family was staying that night. To buttress that thesis, Mr. McCann revisited the explanation his client gave to an interpreter-turned-investigator four months later.

Hamed told the investigator – later subpoenaed as a Crown witness – the victims took the car, a Nissan Sentra, and that out of concern he followed them to the lock in the other car, a Lexus.

Near the lock, he said, as the women tried to find a place to turn around, he accidentally bumped into the rear of the Nissan, smashing a headlight on the Lexus. He got out of the car to pick up the shards.

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Moments later, there was a splash as the Nissan plunged into the lock. He called out, honked the horn of the Lexus and dangled a rope over the side of the lock, but there was no sign of life.

He said he dropped the pieces of headlight, which is how they came to be at the edge of the lock.

After about 15 minutes, he drove to Montreal, where, by his own admission, he staged a one-car accident to account for the splintered headlight. Then he returned to Kingston, where he and his parents reported the four missing.

He never called 911. Nor did he tell his parents what had happened, even after the three were arrested and the other three Shafia siblings removed from the family home.

Hamed Shafia did not testify at the trial, but Mr. McCann told the jury that Hamed's version of events is the true one. He agreed that his client bungled badly in leaving his drowning sisters without alerting authorities, but that was because he feared being accused of negligence.

Ms. Lacelle said the scenario was "cooked up."

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At The Globe and Mail since 1982, in assorted manifestations, chiefly crime reporter, foreign correspondent and member of the Editorial Board, Tim is now retired. More

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