01/30/2012 12:07 EST | Updated 03/31/2012 05:12 EDT

The Shafia Women: Killed By Double Standards


Thankfully, we have a conviction in the Shafia "honour killing" trial. The verdict for the three accused family members is guilty as charged on four counts of first-degree murder. The Shafia couple and their eldest son Hamed will now face the almost inevitable prospect of life in prison.

Perhaps at the time of committing the heinous crimes, the trio had forgotten they were no longer living in Afghanistan where such crimes go unreported and unpunished. Indeed, in those parts of the world, such atrocities are often not even regarded as crimes. But Canada's legal system did not fail the victims. After weeks of exhaustive testimony and hours of jury deliberation, justice was delivered to the unfortunate victims of the unthinkable crime.

The jury had to decide between three possible outcomes: guilty of first-degree murder, guilty of second-degree murder, and not guilty. The jury could also pass a different verdict for each of the accused. However, the facts of the case being as incontestable as they were in terms of damning evidence, no other outcome of the jury's deliberations seemed likely.

A second-degree murder verdict was a non-starter. There ought to have been some immediate provocation to the convicted trio for things to have escalated to the point where all four victims were led to their brutal deaths. The jury therefore faced two stark choices: arriving at a guilty verdict for premeditated murder or a "not guilty" verdict because of lack of evidence.

But evidence was aplenty. The inconsistencies in the testimony of the three, the Google searches, the email conversations, the forensic evidence, all pointed to one thing alone: that the murders were planned and executed by the trio to protect the family honour from what they perceived to be the girls' sinful and dishonourable behavior.

But even though justice is served, the girls and their sympathetic stepmother are gone forever. That is a sad reality we must now live with. Yet, we must also strive to learn from this tragic episode. Indeed the trial has exposed a cultural pathology that needs a closer and unbiased examination.

Regrettably, far too many men raised in patriarchal settings regard their female offspring as liabilities. The birth of a female child is often marked with anxiety and dismay. Later on, the issue of family honour kicks in when the girl reaches puberty. In fact, the notion of honour revolves primarily around women and their sexuality and conduct. The men in the family are rarely subjected to the kinds of constraints their female relatives endure. It is mostly when the conduct of the women is perceived as dishonourable that matters worsen.

Mr. Shafia's polygamous marriage is an example of such double standards. His eldest son, the now convicted Hamed, also enjoyed the liberty to move around town freely. His sisters on the other hand, were forbidden even from visiting the local library. Rona Amir, the fourth victim of the crime also wished to leave the oppressive polygamous arrangement, but was unable to procure a divorce from the patriarchal Mr. Shafia.

Little wonder most victims of honour crimes happen to be women. Such too was the case with the Shafia sisters and their stepmother. But justice is now served. Let this be a lesson to all who wish to impose patriarchal values on their daughters, sisters, and other female relatives: Canada will not tolerate such horrendous violence in the name of patriarchy, honour, or religion.