Khairi conviction pushes Canada’s honour killing toll higher

Randjida Khairi is the 16th 17th person to die in Canada in the past two decades in an honour killing, a Canadian court has confirmed. Today, a jury convicted her husband Peer (inset) of second-degree murder in her slaying in Toronto in 2008. My research shows that there have been at least 15 16 previous deaths in cases that led to convictions since 1990. Peer Khairi, an Afghan immigrant, stabbed his wife five times and slashed her throat nearly through to her spine. The trial heard that he was enraged because of his wife’s defiance and because she had sided with their children who had adopted liberal, Western attitudes to clothing and dating.

Since Randjida Khairi’s death, seven other women and young girls have died in apparent honour killings in Canada. Two of those seven involve cases that are still before the courts. Amandeep Kaur Dhillon, 22, was stabbed to death in Mississsauga, Ontario 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. In June 2009, Shafia sisters Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17, Geeti, 13, and their father’s first wife, Rona Amir, were found dead in a submerged car in a shallow canal in eastern Ontario. Afghan immigrant Mohammad Shafia, his second wife Tooba and their eldest son Hamed were each convicted of four counts of first-degree murder. They were sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years. They have appealed. Shafia was furious that his daughters were dating, wearing clothes that he considered immodest and were disobedient. His first wife Rona sided with the girls and had asked for a divorce.

The Khairi case may prompt a new round of public handwringing and pronouncements by politicians who have refused to offer much beyond platitudes in response to the growing problem of honour crimes in Canada. Recent cases prompted the federal government to give $350,000 to a Quebec-based agency, Shield of Athena, to develop programs and public information around the issue of honour-based violence and in Alberta, a community agency got a $241,000 grant to develop recommendations to address honour-based violence. The comitments are a pittance compared to the financial costs (and untold social costs) of investigating and prosecuting honour murders. The Shafia case in Ontario cost millions in police and courts costs, although officials have refused to disclose any amounts. Hundreds of thousands were spent just to equip an aging courtroom in Kingston, Ontario to accommodate a complex trial that involved testimony in four languages.

Canadians politicians have publicly condemned honour crimes, but, for the most part, Ottawa appears content to pass the buck. Rona Ambrose, the minister responsible for the status of women, told the Globe and Mail that community leaders among immigrant groups must play a greater role.

The real issue here is that a message be sent – not only from the government, but from community leaders, especially male community leaders, across all cultural and religious communities – that this kind of so-called honour-based violence is not going to be tolerated in Canada.

Ambrose has been quick to praise agencies that have recognized the problem, including Calgary police, considered leaders in training officers in identifying and responding to honour-based violence and she praised a consultant for the publication of a memoir about the issue and her research, but the praise did not include any commitment to government initiatives.

Public condemnation, and there have been efforts by community leaders, have not stopped murderous men from killing daughters and wives in Canada. The problem is escalating, perhaps a reflection of the growth in immigration – two thirds of Canada’s expansion is now fuelled by immigration. Research has shown that immigrants often seek to ‘freeze’ or preserve their culture through strict adherence in their new home to old practices and customs. Since 2000, 15 people have been victims of violent honour crimes in Canada that led to convictions. Among that number are three victims who narrowly escaped death in 2007 when a Toronto man, an immigrant from Sri Lanka, used his minivan to run down his daughter and her boyfriend. He was angry that the girl had shamed him by dating a boy of a lower caste. He also ran over his young son in law. Originally charged with three counts of attempted murder, Selvanayagam Selladurai pleaded guilty to three counts of aggravated assault. The prosecution said it was an attempted honour killing.

The cases reflect the fact that some immigrants to Canada preserve their strict cultural beliefs despite the education that Canadian authorities provide about individual rights and freedoms. The national publicity surrounding recent, high-profile honour killings prompted Ottawa to update its study guide for newcomers to include an explicit warning against honour-based practices. It’s not clear how the government will ensure that newcomers have embraced Canadian ideals.

Unlike some other Western jurisdiction that respect individual human rights, Canada has not ‘institutionalized’ the investigation of honour-based crimes or their prosecution.

In Britain, the Crown prosecution service has established investigative units, provided special training to police and prosecutors about the dynamics of forced marriage and honour-based crimes. In 2007, the agency implemented a pilot project to identify and monitor cases as part of a developing strategy to contain the problem.

In 2005, Turkey introduced mandatory life sentences for convicted honour killers, in a bid to combat an epidemic. Honour killings are said to account for half of all murders in the country.

At a recent conference in Calgary, Alberta on honour crimes, panellists, including police, said that social agencies are not responding properly to cases involving women and young girls facing honour-based violence.

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