The Montreal Gazette - August 1, 2009
Eldest daughter of Kingston canal murder suspect attempted to marry
By Paul Cherry, Gazette crime reporter
During the two years her family lived in Canada, Zainab Shafia was constantly at odds with her parents as she pushed for more freedom from their conservative ways, says the man who was married to the 19-year-old woman for one day shortly before she was killed.
Shafia was killed on June 30, along with her two sisters – Sahari, 17, and Geeti, 13, – and Rona Amir Mohammad, 50, as her family was returning from Niagara Falls to St. Léonard.
Charged with first-degree murder in all four homicides is the sisters’ father Mohammad Shafia, 56, along with their mother Tooba Mohammad Yahya, 39, and their brother Hamed Shafia, 18.
The bodies of all four victims were discovered in a car submerged in the Rideau Canal at the Kingston Mills Locks.
The Kingston police confirmed last week that they are investigating the possibility the homicides were part of what Rona Amir Mohammad’s relatives allege were so-called honour killings. Mohammad was Shafia’s first wife, a detail he tried to conceal from the Kingston police after the bodies were found.
Before being arrested last week, Shafia and his second wife also theorized that their oldest daughter took their Nissan without their permission during a stop in their trip, didn’t have a driver’s license and probably caused an accident that killed all four. The Kingston police have said they don’t believe this theory at all.
There are now details emerging about Zainab’s relationship with her parents and how she chafed under their tight control after the family moved to Canada from Dubai two years ago.
Ammar Wahid, a 26-year-old Montrealer, told The Gazette that he and Zainab were married in May but that immediately after the religious ceremony her parents convinced her to end the union.
“She was very friendly and very attractive. I wouldn’t say we fell in love right away. But the more we got to know each other the more we fell in love. I asked her to marry me. She said she wanted to marry me but her parents weren’t happy with it.
“It’s the culture. They didn’t want to accept someone from outside their country,” said Wahid who is from Pakistan.
The Shafia family was originally from Afghanistan but moved to Dubai in the 1990s. Mohammad Shafia married both his wives in Afghanistan where it is legal for a man to marry more than one woman.
Wahid said Zainab talked often of her father and how he tried to control her. He also said he believes Zainab was engaged to another man “about 18 months ago.”
“I think her parents were happy with that engagement but she wasn’t and she broke it off after six months,” Wahid said of the woman he met while both were taking courses at the same school two years ago.
Zainab had just arrived in Canada but made friends quickly, he said.
“She was the kind of person everyone got along with. She had quite a few friends at school despite being new there.”
Wahid said he and Zainab were married at a mosque in St. Léonard on May 19. They decided to end the union the following day after seeing how both of their families reacted. They tried to hold a reception but no one from Wahid’s side of the family showed up and Zainab’s parents convinced her to end it. Wahid said he never filed the document to have the marriage officially recognized in Quebec.
Wahid said he was disappointed but felt “there was nothing I could do about it. It’s about the culture. They wanted to follow their culture.”
Zainab’s father couldn’t accept that Wahid was from Pakistan and not Afghanistan, Wahid said.
“My parents didn’t approve but they said I was old enough to do what I wanted.”
According to a report in the Toronto Sun, Zainab was planning to announce her engagement to Hussain Hyderi, a 27-year-old Montrealer, the day after she was killed. The man told the newspaper that he “never loved anyone as much as I loved Zainab.”
A St. Léonard resident with the same family name is on a list of people the accused can not communicate with while their case is before the courts.
The Gazette tried to contact the person on the list last week but a relative said he would only have something to say after the murder case is over.
Wahid said Mohammad Shafia did not only disapprove of Zainab’s choice in men. He said her father debated his daughter on whether she should work or continue to pursue her education. She left her family’s home in St. Léonard earlier this year after arguing over such a topic, Wahid said, adding he was shocked when he learned Zainab’s body had been found in Kingston.
He thought Zainab and her father had patched things up in June, after Mohammad Shafia returned from a trip. Wahid said he had little reason to suspect wrongdoing. That changed when a Kingston police detective travelled to Montreal, before any charges were laid, to talk to Wahid. When the investigator asked questions about his relationship with Zainab, Wahid said he realized there might have been something more sinister involved.
“The last time we spoke was two weeks before she passed away,” he said. “She called me, I think, and said she was happy at home. Her father had just come back from Dubai and she asked him for forgiveness and he forgave her. She said ‘my parents are letting me go out, letting me go to work’ and stuff like that. I said ‘I’m happy for you. At least you got your freedom.’ Two weeks after that conversation I sent her an email. I never got the reply.”
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