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Teen victim feared she'd be 'a dead woman' if parents knew she was dating

Sahar Shafia is shown in this photo released by the courts on Tuesday Nov. 22, 2011.


A few weeks before a 17-year-old Afghan-Canadian girl was found drowned in suspicious circumstances two years ago, she told her boyfriend's aunt that if her parents discovered she was dating him, "I will be a dead woman."

The teen planned to tell her parents anyway, a murder trial heard.

The testimony came from Irma Medina, the aunt of Ricardo Ruano, now 23, who dated Sahar Shafia for about four months in the spring of 2009.

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"She told me that if her parents learned about it, they would kill her," Ms. Medina told a jury weighing the fate of three people, each charged with four counts of first-degree murder, in what the prosecution has termed multiple "honour killings."

In other evidence aired Wednesday, an intake worker with the Quebec Youth and Family Services agency testified that she, too, spoke to Sahar, almost a year earlier, after a worried call from a teacher at her high school. "And she told me she wanted to die because her home situation was unbearable."

It was clear Sahar was terrified of getting the authorities involved, Evelyn Benayoun testified.

"She told me she was extremely scared because she wasn't allowed to share family information, she was scared of the repercussions," Ms. Benayoun testified, adding that the concerns about Sahar encompassed physical and emotional abuse, isolation from her mother and siblings, and a desire to commit suicide.

And what hurt her most was being ostracized by her mother, Tooba Mohammad Yahya, who now stands accused of murdering Sahar, along with two other daughters and her husband's first wife.

"She felt she was emotionally rejected by her mother, who wouldn't talk to her," Ms. Benayoun told the trial. "And none of her siblings were allowed to talk to her."

Taken together, the complaints seemed so serious that Sahar's case was categorized as a Code 1 – the most urgent – Ms. Benayoun said. A case worker was assigned to the file, and an investigation was launched both in May, 2008, when Ms. Benayoun got the call from the Antoine de Saint-Exupery high school, in the Montreal borough of St. Leonard, and the following year.

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But as the trial has already heard, there was no intervention in the Shafia household, and both times the Youth and Family Services files were closed, in large part because of reluctance by the children to confront their domineering parents.

On June 30, 2009, the drowned bodies of teenaged sisters Zainab, Sahar and Geeti Shafia, aged 19, 17 and 13, respectively, were discovered in a submerged car at the bottom of a Rideau Canal lock near Kingston. Also in the vehicle was the body of their father's first wife, Rona Amir Mohammad, 52.

Afghan-Canadian businessman Mohammad Shafia, 58, his second wife, Tooba Mohammad Yahya, 41, and their eldest son, Hamed, 20, have each pleaded not guilty to four counts of first-degree murder.

The family was returning to their Montreal home after a short vacation in Niagara Falls and had stopped overnight in a Kingston motel when the four victims mysteriously vanished. After the bodies were discovered a few hours later, the defendants told police the eldest daughter, Zainab, had taken the other three for a late-night joyride and that a tragic accident had somehow occurred.

Detectives quickly suspected murder, however, and the core theory of the prosecution is that so-called "honour killings" had taken place, directed primarily at the independent-minded teens, who chafed at the restraints placed on them by their parents, who viewed their conduct and values as immoral.

The fourth victim, Rona Amir Mohammad, had long been mistreated by the accused, it is also alleged. As well, she posed a possible problem for the Shafia household because Mr. Shafia had lied to immigration authorities and told them she was his cousin, not his wife.

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Polygamy in Canada is illegal.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the jury also heard from Mr. Ruano, Sahar's boyfriend, photographs of whom were found in a car and in a suitcase belonging to Mr. Shafia and his son, Hamed, after they were arrested.

Mr. Ruano and Sahar planned to elope to his native Honduras and get married, the trial heard, and he read out to the court portions of texts he sent to her just days before she died, during the Niagara Falls road trip.

"The only thing I would wish in this world is to have you every day of my life," he wrote in one.

"I love you with all my heart and I can't love anyone more beautiful than you," he told Sahar in another. "Every day you are like the moon that lights up my life."

The trial will resume next week with the final prosecution witness, an expert in the cultural background to so-called "honour killings."

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About the Author

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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