If Peer Khairi (inset) is found guilty of murdering his wife in an honour killing, as alleged by prosecutors, it will make Randjida Khairi at least the 16th person to die in Canada since 1990 in an honour killing in which the perpetrator was convicted, according to my research. In three additional deaths, court proceedings are still underway, including two in 2011. I believe there may be many more Canadian homicide cases that were not recognized as honour killings. Khairi is accused of stabbing to death his wife Randjida in 2008 in Toronto, Ontario in a case with troubling parallels to the Shafia case. Peer Khairi, like Mohammad Shafia, is an Afghan immigrant who brought his family to Canada. His murder trial began October 5.
Khairi was unhappy with his life in Canada, his trial has heard. He fought with his daughter about her relationship with another Afghan immigrant and he feuded with his wife. He felt he was losing control of his family. Khairi wanted his daughter to follow custom and marry a cousin. She wanted to choose her own partner and her mother supported her, sparking bitter disagreement between the parents. According to evidence from the couple’s daughter, provided at a previous court hearing, her mother was afraid of her husband and had talked of leaving him. She told a counsellor at the Afghan Women’s organization, two days before her death, that she wanted to live on her own. Crown prosecutors suggest that the man held his wife responsible for the disrespect he believed he faced at home and he lashed out at her violently, stabbing her in the chest and slashing her throat. Khairi has acknowledged inflicting the wounds but has pleaded not guilty to the charge of second-degree murder.
Khairi called emergency services after his wife was stabbed. Here’s the 911 call:
Seven women and young girls have been slain in cases that are confirmed or alleged honour killings in Canada since Randjida Khairi died in March 2008.
» Amandeep Kaur Dhillon, 22, was stabbed to death in January 2009 by her father-in-law. Kamikar Singh Dhillon pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. He believed Amandeep was going to leave her husband and shame the family.
» Zainab Shafia, 19, her sisters Sahar, 17, and Geeti, 13 and their stepmother Rona, 50, were killed in June 2009. The parents of the girls, Mohammad Shafia and his wife Tooba and their eldest son Hamed, were each convicted of four counts of first-degree murder. Prosecutors established that Shafia was enraged that his daughters had shamed him by consorting with boys and adopting Western lifestyles. Rona, who was Shafia’s first wife, had asked for a divorce and sided with the girls.
» In July 2011, Shaher Bano Shahdady, 21, was strangled in her Toronto apartment in an alleged honour killing. Her estranged husband is charged with first-degree murder.
» Ravinder Kaur Bhangu, 24, was hacked to death in July 2011 outside the newspaper office in Surrey, British Columbia, where she worked. Her husband, Sunny Bhangu, 26, is charged with first-degree murder. The victim’s family in India allege she was killed because they did not comply with dowry demands.
In addition to the fifteen honour killings where convictions have been registered since 1990, there are an additional three victims who were injured in an attempted honour killing in 2007. In that case, a Toronto man, Selvanayagam Selladurai, used his minivan to run down his 16-year-old daughter, her boyfriend and his son in law, seriously injuring two of them including his daughter. He believed that his daughter had shamed him by dating a boy of a lower caste. He pleaded guilty to three counts of aggravated assault and was sentenced to five years in prison.
Although some politicians, social service and child protection agencies suggest that honour killings are a relatively new phenomenon that is not well understood, there care cases in Canada dating back nearly 60 years. In July 1954, an Italian immigrant, Annunziato Tripodi, strangled his wife to death because she had been unfaithful, became pregnant by another man and had an abortion. He told police and family later that he had to kill her to avenge his family honour. Tripodi was convicted of murder and he argued unsuccessfully, in an appeal that ended up at the Supreme Court of Canada, that he should be convicted only of manslaughter. Tripodi claimed that he killed his wife in a moment of passion, the result of sudden provocation when she admitted to having had an abortion. The provocation defence is an arcane concept in Canadian law (section 232) that often has been used by men to mitigate their responsibility for killing wives and girlfriends, typically in situations where the man found his partner with her lover. The section of law stipulates that:
Culpable homicide that otherwise would be murder may be reduced to manslaughter if the person who committed it did so in the heat of passion caused by sudden provocation.
Another honour killer in Canada, Dilbag Singh Nahar, tried in 2002 to use the defence of provocation after murdering his wife, Kanwaljeet Kaur. Like Tripodi 48 years earlier, he failed. The couple, Sikhs from India who came to Canada, were wed in 1998 in a marriage arranged by their families while she was just 17. Three years later, Nahar stabbed his wife in the chest and neck with a kitchen knife. He claimed he did not remember inflicting the fatal wounds. Nahar acknowledged the marriage was tumultuous and he had often tried to convince his wife to stop smoking, drinking and socializing with other men, acts that he considered forbidden by their strict Sikh upbringing. During one of these confrontations, on May 19, 2001, Nahar said his wife again refused his entreaties, telling him: “You can’t stop me.” During his trial, Nahar testified that: “My brain became numb and I became like blind.” It was during this ‘blindness’ that he stabbed her. Nahar’s provocation argument was summarized in the decision of the judge:
Central to the case is evidence as to the shared expectations among the Sikh community, and the Indo-Canadian community at large, as to the proper conduct of a married woman and as to the importance attached to these expectations. The case for the defence, reduced to its simplest terms, is that the words and actions of Mrs. Nahar, just before she was killed, amounted to a sudden and unexpected insult of such a nature as to be sufficient to deprive an ordinary person of the power of self control and that Mr. Nahar acted on that insult on the sudden and before there was time for his passion to cool.
The judge ruled that an ordinary man would not have been “raised up to a heat of passion” even if the provocation was as Nahar described it. Nahar was convicted of second-degree murder.