Three teachers at a Montreal high school saw troubling signs that Sahar Shafia (inset), one of three teenaged sisters allegedly murdered by her family, was a victim of physical and psychological abuse at home, a murder trial has heard. The teachers from Antoine-de Saint-Exupéry school in St. Leonard testified in succession Thursday, offering a catalogue of complaints that they said they heard from Sahar about violence and torment she suffered at the hands of family members, particularly her older brother and father.
Teacher Antonella Enea said Sahar confided that she was injured by scissors in an incident with her brother Hamed and that she feared her father.
“Some days she was very sad,” Enea testified.
Math teacher Fatiha Boualia said Sahar told her that “things were severe at home, Muslim oriented.”
Teacher Claudia Deslauriers noticed bruises, scratches and scars on the inside of the girl’s forearms.
Sahar told a social worker that she dreamed of helping women.
“She wished to be a gynecologist because she was moved by the bad health that women had in Afghanistan,” community centre worker Stephanie Benjamin testified.
Sahar, 17, and sisters Geeti, 13, and Zainab, 19, along with Rona Amir Mohammad, 52, were found dead inside a car found submerged in a canal in Kingston on June 30, 2009. Rona was Montreal businessman Mohammad Shafia’s first wife, whom he married in his native Afghanistan, before moving to Canada in 2007.
Three weeks after the victims were found, Shafia, 58, his wife Tooba Mohammad Yahya, 41, and their son Hamed, 20, were arrested and each charged with four counts of first-degree murder. They have pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors allege it was an honour killing, orchestrated by Shafia because he believed his daughters had shamed him and his family by dressing in revealing clothes and consorting with boys.
Deslauriers, who taught three Shafia children, recounted a meeting with Yahya in which the mother seemed “really angry” and was asking if the teacher knew whether Sahar had a boyfriend that she had kissed.
“I recall her saying that it was something that was against her values,” Deslauriers replied, during questioning by defence lawyer David Crowe, who represents Yahya.
The teacher lied and said no, though she had been told by Sahar that she had a boyfriend.
“I didn’t want Sahar to encounter any problems following our meeting,” she testified. Deslauriers said Sahar had never complained to her about problems with her parents, but she had heard this from Enea, who also attended the meeting with Sahar’s mother. Deslauriers said when she asked Sahar who caused the injuries on her arms, she did not get an answer.
Enea said Sahar told her about problems at home.
“She said she couldn’t have a normal life, the normal life of a young girl,” Enea testified. Sahar told her she couldn’t see friends of her choosing and could not go out of the home.
The teacher offered to help but Sahar declined.
“She said, ‘There’s nothing to be done,’ that was just the state of affairs at the house and nothing could be changed,” she testified.
Sahar also told Enea, in June 2009, that she feared violence at home.
“She said that she was afraid of the father,” Enea testified. The teacher said Sahar told her that her father was returning to Canada from a business trip abroad and she feared one of her siblings who attended the same school was going to tell him that Sahar was a “whore.”
Boualia recounted an incident when Sahar fainted in class in May 2009. Boualia spent hours at the hospital with the girl because her parents could not be reached. None of her family members came to the hospital.
Boualia said she was told later by Sahar that she believed a sibling had told her mother not to go to the hospital.
“She was crying,” Boualia testified. “She said, ‘Ma’am it’s always the fact [that others are] distancing people from me, that love me.’ ”
Sahar did not tell the teacher who was trying to come between her and her family members. Sahar asked Boualia, who was a Muslim woman with a teenaged daughter, to speak to Yahya, Boualia said.
“Sahar is a girl who liked life, she wished to be free,” Boualia testified.
The complaints from Sahar to the teachers, in 2008 and 2009, that she had been abused, led to two calls to youth protection agencies. In at least one case, an investigator concluded the allegations were true but the case was closed and no action taken because of the finding that the girl was not in immediate danger, jurors heard earlier this week.
Social worker Benjamin testified Thursday that a school psychologist told her that Sahar feared being beaten by her father when he returned to Canada from a trip. Benjamin, who met Sahar twice in early June 2009, asked Sahar if she still feared violence at home.
Sahar told her that she wasn’t afraid any longer because her parents were separated and her father was living in a motel.
Defence lawyer Peter Kemp asked Benjamin if she knew that Sahar’s father was still out of the country in early June 2009 and there was no evidence he had ever been separated from Sahar’s mother.
“I believed what she told me,” Benjamin responded.
Benjamin said that when she met Sahar on June 9, the girl talked of wanting to get a job and saving money so that she could move out of the family home to her own place. She told the social worker she had a good relationship with her mother. Benjamin gave Sahar job leads and asked her to check back with her. She did not speak to her again.
(this appeared first at the Montreal Gazette)
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