TORONTO - Criminal defence lawyers are dismayed that Immigration Minister Chris Alexander publicly branded a man charged with killing his wife a murderer before his trial.
Alexander brought up the case of Nasira Fazli this week as he talked publicly about the need for legislation to crack down on so-called "honour" killings and polygamy among immigrants.
"Not much more than one year ago, she was killed — 48 stab wounds — by her husband, Feraidon Mohammad Ibrahem, who had been in this country only for a few months, sponsored by her," Alexander told a news conference at a women's centre in west-end Toronto.
"While what he did is clearly a crime, among the gravest crimes that can be committed and that he is facing the full consequences of the law for murder, this was also a barbaric cultural practice in that he felt that he had been dishonoured by her ability to be independent."
Alexander went on to say that "that kind of behaviour by any immigrant, by any Canadian, is unacceptable."
Fazli, 31, of Ajax, Ont., was found stabbed to death in July 2013. Ibrahem's preliminary inquiry wrapped up last month and he has yet to stand trial for first-degree murder.
Ibrahem's defence lawyer, Fariborz Davoudi, expressed shock at the remarks.
"Oh my god, I had no idea. Is he labelling this as an honour killing?" Davoudi said on Thursday.
"There used to be a presumption of innocence in this country but I don't know what happened to it."
Davoudi said important legal and factual issues had yet to be determined and Alexander shouldn't jump to conclusions and try to summarize the case in a few "prejudicial" words.
The Conservative cabinet minister was making no apologies.
In a statement Thursday, his spokesman Kevin Menard said the minister's views on the need to protect women from all forms of violence were well known.
"We would like to clarify that the accused has not been convicted of murder, only charged," Menard said.
Still, other legal experts denounced Alexander's statements as a serious mistake.
"It is absolutely wrong," said Bill Trudell, chairman of the Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers.
"This type of comment by any Canadian, and by any minister, is unacceptable."
Bail hearings and preliminary hearings are normally subject to publication bans precisely to avoid prejudging an accused. Potential evidence, in particular, is off-limits until introduced at trial.
That did not deter Alexander, who has talked publicly about the case in such emphatic terms on at least one other occasion, such as in a Toronto speech to the Canadian Club in March.
"(Fazli) had warned her family, she had warned her friends, that she feared that her husband was violent," he said in his remarks Wednesday.
"She had actually taken all of the knives out of her house and put them in the trunk of her car as a precaution."
Trudell said the remarks display a lack of respect for the criminal justice system and amount to political meddling with the courts on behalf of the Harper government.
"They're always politicking, and when they're politicking 24/7, they're blinded to the collateral damage of some of the comments," the lawyer said.
"This man may be totally innocent."