TORONTO — Crown lawyers are arguing it was a father convicted of murdering his three daughters and his first wife — and not an expert witness — who introduced the phenomenon of so-called honour killings in his original trial.
The arguments are being made at Ontario's highest court, where Mohammad Shafia, his wife Tooba Yahya and their son Hamed are all asking for new trials, saying their original one was tainted by "highly prejudicial'' testimony from an expert on honour killings.
The trio, who were originally from Afghanistan, were convicted in January 2012 of killing the couple's three daughters and Shafia's first wife in a polygamous marriage.
Crown lawyer Jocelyn Speyer noted that it was Shafia who was heard on wiretaps played in court cursing his daughters as "treacherous'' and "whores,'' angry they were dating and had become westernized.
Speyer noted Shafia was captured saying "may the devil (defecate) on their graves,'' and was repeatedly heard talking about how important his honour was to him.
Mohammad Shafia and wife Tooba Mohammad Yahya are escorted by police officers into the Frontenac County courthouse in Kingston, Ont., on Jan. 18, 2012. (Photo: Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)
She says the jury needed to know about the concept of honour as a motive in a killing, and the evidence of an expert witness was able to explain that to jurors, allowing them to assess Shafia's conversations in a way they would otherwise not have been able to do.
"This is not cultural profiling,'' Speyer told a panel of three judges. "This was equipping the jury to understand an issue in the trial.''
Speyer noted that the expert witness was careful to note at the original trial that honour killings are rare events, and also made sure there was no generalizations about citizens of Afghanistan or the Middle East in her testimony.
"She is not stigmatizing or seeking to generalize or profile an entire nation,'' Speyer said. "She didn't offer any opinion that this case was a case of honour killing.''
Lawyers for Shafia, Yahya and Hamed have argued that the expert should not have been allowed to tell the jury how honour killings are typically carried out, nor should she have been allowed to read out denunciations on honour killings.
"This is not cultural profiling... This was equipping the jury to understand an issue in the trial.''
They argued the expert's evidence encouraged prejudice, invited the jury to extrapolate from the facts of other unrelated murders, and encouraged a more generalized "cultural stereotyping.''
In June 2009, the bodies of Shafia and Yahya's daughters — Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17, and Geeti, 13 — and Shafia's first wife in a polygamous marriage, 52-year-old Rona Amir Mohammad, were found in a car at the bottom of the Rideau Canal in Kingston, Ont.
The Crown at the trial asserted the murders were committed after the girls "shamed'' the family by dating and acting out, and Amir Mohammad was simply disposed of.
The trial judge described the killings as being motivated by the Shafias' "twisted concept of honour.''
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