In an unequivocal, unanimous decision, three judges of Ontario’s top court dismissed an appeal by a convicted honour killer, a decision that could have implications for appeals in the infamous Shafia mass honour killing case. The Court of Appeal for Ontario refused to overturn the conviction of Hasibullah Sadiqi (inset), who shot to death his sister and her fiance in Ottawa, Ontario in 2006. Sadiqi is serving life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years after he was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder. He acknowledged that he pulled the trigger and had intended to kill both victims, but he claimed that the murders were not planned but were the result of provocation. The prosecution established that Sadiqi, like the Shafias, carried out the murders because he believed his Afghan family’s honour had been tarnished and he believed the slayings would cleanse the shame. In its decision, the Court of Appeal concluded that the Sadiqi case was built on a “strong web of circumstantial evidence,” it relied on “straightforward and powerful logic” presented by a Crown prosecutor and the testimony of an expert on honour killings was “necessary,” “relevant,” and “balanced.”
During Sadiqi’s trial, witnesses testified that he was angry that his sister, Khatera, 20, planned to marry Feroz Mangal, 23, and had moved in with Mangal’s family, without consulting her father, from whom she was estranged. The Sadiqi and Mangal families immigrated to Canada from Afghanistan. Sadiqi believed his sister’s actions had shamed the family, the trial was told. An expert witness called by prosecutors, University of Toronto professor Shahrzad Mojab, testified that in some conservative cultures, the perception that a woman or girl is defiant or disobedient is considered by some families to be a grave dishonour to its reputation in the wider community and could prompt the family to kill her.
“Purifying through the spilling of blood shows men are in control,” Mojab testified at the 2009 trial. “Restoring the respect of the family is more important than the sacrificing of the life of a woman who is disobeying.”
Khatera and Mangal were shot to death on September 19, 2006, while they sat in Khatera’s car in a parking lot in Ottawa. Earlier that evening, they had been out to dinner and a movie with a group of people, including Khatera’s brother Hasibullah. Khatera and Mangal drove Hasibullah to his car in the parking lot at the end of the evening but before they could drive away, Hasibullah pulled a .44-calibre handgun from under the seat of his car, walked back to Khatera’s car and shot the pair. Hasibullah claimed that he “exploded” in a rage after incendiary comments by Mangal related to disagreement over Khatera’s insistence that she would marry who she chose, without consulting her father. Hasibullah claimed that Mangal said:
Fuck you, fuck your father, fuck your sister. I’ll bring your sister’s dead body to the wedding before I ever let her talk to your father. Fuck you.
Hasibullah said that he had no recollection of what happened next, until he found himself driving away from the scene of the shooting. He acknowledged that he had argued with his sister that night.
A central component of Sadiqi’s appeal was his complaint that the trial judge should not have permitted Mojab, the honour killing expert, to testify. But the Court of Appeal concluded that there was nothing prejudicial in her testimony and that she was an “appropriate” witness who gave “balanced” evidence. The appeal court decision noted that Mojab acknowledged she did not have any information about the case.
Like the trial judge, we think it important in assessing the potential prejudicial effect that the expert offered no opinion on the facts of the case. There was no danger that the jury would cede its fact finding responsibilities to the expert.
Mojab (inset right) also appeared as an expert witness at the Shafia murder trial that concluded in Kingston, Ontario in January 2012. As in Sadiqi, Mojab did not testify about the specific facts of the Shafia case and she was not asked if she thought the case appeared to be an honour killing. She testified only about the concept of honour codes and the behaviour seen in some strict, traditional families. Mohammad Shafia, 59, his second wife Tooba Yahya, 43, and their son Hamed, 22, were each convicted of four counts of first-degree murder. Sisters Zainab Shafia, 19, Sahar, 17, and Geeti, 13, and Rona Amir, 50, were found dead on June 30, 2009, inside a submerged car. Prosecutors established that Shafia was enraged by what he considered defiant behaviour of his daughters, who he believed had dishonoured him because they were consorting with boys and dressing in clothes that he considered revealing. Rona, who was his first wife in the polygamous family, had asked for a divorce and sided with the girls.
Like Sadiqi, the Shafias are claiming in their appeals that Mojab’s evidence was prejudicial and she should not have been permitted to testify at the trial. The Shafias have not yet filed their detailed appeal documents, but the brief notice of appeal already submitted to the Court of Appeal on behalf of Hamed complains that Mojab’s knowledge of honour killing was mainly anecdotal and her evidence was not objective. The Shafia trial judge conducted a lengthy hearing on the debate over whether Mojab should be allowed to testify, and issued a written ruling explaining his decision.
The Shafias are expected to file one joint factum that will set out detailed grounds of appeal on behalf of all three convicted killers. The notice of appeal already filed by defence lawyer Patrick McCann also alleges that the trial was “unfair” because Tooba Yahya, who testified in her own defence, was subject to “abusive” questioning by a Crown prosecutor. The notice also complains that the trial judge should not have admitted evidence concerning statements made by the victims to teachers, social workers, family members and police officers. A date for a hearing will be set after the defence files its factum.
Here’s the complete decision by the Court of Appeal for Ontario in the Sadiqi case: