KINGSTON, Ont. - A car found at the bottom of an eastern Ontario canal with the bodies of three sisters and their father's first wife suspended in the water inside seemed to trace a very deliberate path, a murder trial heard Friday.
In a case that has raised the issue of so-called honour killings, the Crown alleges the girls' family couldn't bear the "treachery" of their daughters having boyfriends, so they killed them and staged the scene to look like an accident.
But it certainly didn't look like an accident to the first officer on the scene at the Kingston Mills on June 30, 2009, court heard Friday. Kingston police Const. Brent White testified that he first thought the car at the bottom of the locks was the work of pranksters with a stolen vehicle.
The Crown theory of the car's path, which White suspected that day, is that it would have had to travel past a locked gate, over a concrete curb and a rocky outcrop and then make two U-turns to end up in the locks of the canal.
"In my mind...I'm thinking this is pretty difficult to get that vehicle in that narrow spot," White testified. "It had to be driven there on purpose."
Tooba Mohammad Yahya, 41, her husband, Mohammad Shafia, 58, and their son, Hamed Mohammad Shafia, 20, have each pleaded not guilty to four counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of sisters Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17, and Geeti, 13, as well as Rona Amir Mohammad, 50, Shafia's first wife, who lived with the family in a polygamous relationship.
When the three defence lawyers cross-examined White and another police witness Friday, they suggested there were many other points where a car could have gone into the water much easier and much more directly. Hamed Shafia's lawyer, Patrick McCann, likened the car going in the "circuitous" path the Crown suggests as akin to "threading the needle."
Kingston police Const. Julia Moore testified Friday that when the bodies were discovered they were floating in the car. A police diver took a video camera down into the locks and police at the surface could see Sahar and Rona in the backseat, in seated positions.
Rona Amir Mohammad was Shafia's first wife, but he married Yahya when it became apparent Mohammad couldn't have children. She lived with the family in a polygamous marriage and helped raise the children, court heard.
Zainab likely started out in the front passenger seat, court heard, but was found floating, with her back against the ceiling, facing the rear.
Geeti, the youngest, was found suspended over the driver's seat, one arm wrapped around the headrest and her head against the door post.
Yahya, the girls' mother, appeared to cry, burying her face in a tissue as Moore described the positioning of the bodies. The two accused men were stoic.
The Montreal family had been on their way home from a trip to Niagara Falls, Ont. Court has heard that a motel manager will testify that when Shafia and Hamed checked in to two rooms for the family that night, at first Shafia said there would be six guests. There were 10 people on the family trip.
Court heard Thursday, the first day of the trial, that an expert will be called to testify about so-called honour killings and how in extreme cases, killing can be seen in some cultures as a way to restore honour to a family. Disobedience by a female member of the family can cause shame and taint family honour, the expert is expected testify.
Crown attorney Laurie Lacelle quoted police wiretaps made surreptitiously in the days after the deaths that show the family's concern for their honour.
"Even if they hoist me up onto the gallows, nothing is more dear to me than my honour," Shafia said. "Let's leave our destiny to God, and may God never make me, you or your mother honourless...There is nothing more valuable than our honour."
The family immigrated to Canada in 2007. They left their home country of Afghanistan in 1992 and lived for a number of years in Pakistan, Australia and Dubai before coming to North America.
Shafia's first wife loved the children dearly, Lacelle said, but she wrote in a diary that Yahya treated her poorly and her husband beat her. She wanted to leave, but told family members that she was afraid if she left Shafia would kill her, Lacelle told the court.
The trial continues Monday and is expected to last between two and three months.