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Shafia case bizarrely compelling

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KINGSTON — One of Canada’s most bizarre and bizarrely compelling murder cases will be in jurors’ hands next week.

The trial ended not with a bang — or even an air kiss, tears or the waggle of an accusatory Afghan finger — but with the proverbial whimper.

The evidentiary phase of the so-called honourkilling trial abruptly finished Wednesday after Ontario Superior Court Judge Robert Maranger and the jury heard the brief testimony of the final defence witness, Nabi Misdaq.

Misdaq was called by lawyer David Crowe, who represents Tooba Mohammad Yahya, the mother of seven who is, with her husband, Mohammad Shafia, and their eldest son, Hamed, charged in the June 30, 2009, drowning deaths of almost half their family.

Afghanistan-born and raised, an author, educator and founder of the BBC’s Pashto-language service, the 67-year-old Misdaq was testifying as an expert in aspects of Afghan culture.

He speaks the two national languages of Afghanistan — Dari and Pashto — as well as English.

He testified concepts such as honour are difficult to translate and interpret, and that Darispeaking Afghan men like Shafia often swear when angry or when they’re facing what they perceive as an injustice.

On Kingston Police wiretaps that are exhibits at trial, Shafia was heard luridly cursing his dead daughters as whores and famously said, May the devil shit on their graves!

Such coarse phrases are common among Afghan fathers, Misdaq said, but it doesn’t mean those fathers will act on them, and the phrases aren’t meant or understood literally.

But in cross-examination by prosecutor Gerard Laarhuis, Misdaq agreed that sometimes Afghan men, like people everywhere, say exactly what they mean.

After Misdaq’s testimony, Crowe closed his case, and Patrick McCann, who represents Hamed, 21, told the judge he was calling no evidence.

It meant that of the accused trio, the 21-yearold son was the only one who didn’t take the witness box.

Maranger then told the jurors the case would be in their hands next Wednesday, and they were dismissed until Monday, when closing arguments by the lawyers will begin.

For a trial that has featured copiously weeping witnesses — including the Shafia parents — who variously blew kisses, accused prosecutors and police of arresting the wrong people and delivered monologue answers at such breakneck speed the interpreters struggled to keep pace, it was an anti-climactic finish.

It was also a clear triumph for the Canadian justice system in at least one regard.

Ontario court officials made extensive upgrades to the Frontenac County courtroom here — including building glass interpreters’ booths and bringing in both top interpreters and sophisticated audio-visual equipment and hired guns to watch over it — to make sure the Shafias could understand and get as fair a trial as it was possible to give them.

English, French and Spanish — of a total of 58 witnesses who testified, there were those who spoke all three — were simultaneously translated into Dari/Farsi for the Shafia family, and everything they or other witnesses who spoke in Dari/ Farsi said was translated into English.

For the record, Dari and Farsi are essentially the same language, but with differences akin to the differences between English spoken in the United Kingdom and the United States.

While jurors have a brief respite before they return for the last part of their job, four of the five lawyers involved and Maranger have a busy few days ahead.

Each lawyer will be preparing a closing address; traditionally, these involve both a review of the evidence from the lawyer’s perspective and a pitch to jurors.

Though the three defence lawyers — Crowe for Yahya, McCann for Hamed and Peter Kemp for Shafia — have sometimes operated here as a single unit, they will give separate addresses.

Through their questions and the witnesses they called, the collective defence position appears to be that the deaths of the four — teenagers Zainab, Sahar and Geeti and Shafia’s other wife, Rona Amir Mohammad, 52 — at the Kingston locks just outside town were a tragic accident.

Both Shafia and Yahya testified at length.

Each claimed they knew, and know, nothing of what happened that June night at the locks, though in the 42-year-old Yahya’s case, that meant explaining why at one point, she told police the three accused had indeed been there.

She almost immediately recanted that admission and at trial said she’d been bullied into lying by police.

The last thing they knew, the parents said, was that after arriving at a Kingston motel following a long night on the road, Zainab came seeking the car keys, ostensibly to retrieve her luggage, and when they woke up the next morning, the four women were missing and so was the family’s newly purchased black Nissan.

Hamed also told police the same story at first, though very soon he also had to explain why he’d gone to Montreal that night, only to be involved in a one-car collision with a barrier in an almostempty parking lot — and more importantly, why he hadn’t told police about it.

But the lawyers probably will rely on Hamed’s second version of events, a jailhouse story Hamed gave a self-appointed private detective, Moosa Hadi, several months after the three were arrested.

Hadi, an Afghan who was then a Queen’s University engineering student, had approached Kemp and offered his services as a translator.

But he then made a secret side deal with Shafia to investigate the case, and a day after showing Hamed a CD of disclosure he’d been given by Kemp — this was all the evidence police had gathered at that point — Hamed told Hadi that he’d seen his sisters and Amir in the Nissan that night and followed them in order to keep them safe, but accidentally hit the bumper of the Nissan with the family Lexus.

As he was looking at the damage, Hamed told Hadi, he heard a splash, and realized the Nissan had gone into the canal. He said he dangled a rope in the water, in case anyone had survived, then immediately drove home to Montreal without saying a word to his parents, too afraid to tell them or the police that he’d been there for the terrible tragedy.

As for prosecutor Laurie Lacelle, who will deliver the Crown address for her colleague, Laarhuis, she likely will tell the jurors all that is just so much nonsense — that this was a planned and deliberate murder by the three, who were angry about how the teenage girls had been behaving (the two older ones had boyfriends and all three were rebelling) and wanted to reclaim the family honour.

The lawyers’ addresses are expected to last half a day each, with the judge planning to begin his charge to the jury next Wednesday.

Such instructions on the law, especially in a case with three accused people each charged with four counts of first-degree murder, are necessarily complex.


Christie Blatchford is a columnist for Postmedia News.

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About Christie Blatchford

Christie Blatchford is the national columnist for Postmedia News.


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