The death penalty was abolished in Canada in 1976. Even in the ten years before that date, capital punishment was used only for the killing of on-duty police officers and prison guards.
Mostly, I agree with the policy. There have been many cases of wrongful conviction in Canada, which is a strong argument against the death penalty.
But sometimes, in cases where the guilt of the accused is established beyond a reasonable doubt, I could be persuaded to support the death penalty. This week, I feel that way about a local case which is making national news.
Four people were found dead in a car in the Rideau canal. Three of them were sisters, aged 19, 17, and 13.
Their parents and an 18-year-old brother are accused of murdering them.
The father, Mohammad Shafia, had two wives. The fourth murder victim, Rona Mohammad, was one of Mr. Shafia’s wives.
Reportedly, the parents disapproved of the boy that 19-year-old Zainab Shafia was dating. For this, they murdered her. That’s outrageous enough: but what possible motive did the family have for murdering her two younger sisters and Ms. Mohammad?
The family originally lived in Afghanistan, where “honour killings” of “rebellious” girls is a repugnant cultural norm. But this case is extraordinary even by the standards of fundamentalist Islam.
As my colleague Les Perreaux, who has been to Afghanistan, wrote me last night, while killing a rebellious teenage daughter might fit with that view of justice, while killing the “other” wife might be understandable if hardly defensible, surely wiping out the lot of them, including the 13-year-old, is a stretch, even for the Afghan mind. “I can’t say I ever even heard of a mass family honour killing, even in Afghanistan,” Les wrote.
As I’ve already mentioned, three family members are accused of the crime. But is there any doubt that the father bears primary responsibility?
Mr. Shafia, a well-to-do businessman, was authoritarian and violent; Rona [his wife] feared for her life, her brother said.
Rona was unable to bear children — hence the need for Mr. Shafia to acquire a second wife. Polygamy is legal in Afghanistan. Here in Canada, where it is neither legal nor socially acceptable, the family passed off Mr. Shafia’s childless first wife as a cousin.
When it became apparent to Rona that she was an unsatisfactory wife, she asked for a divorce. Mr. Shafia refused to grant it.
His second wife is a veritable baby-making machine: she has provided Mr. Shafia with seven children.
I am a strong believer in women’s equality. It seems to me that you can divide the world’s cultures into two camps: those which respect women, and those which repress women.
Perhaps the single most telling test of a nation’s civilization is how women are treated.
Mr. Shafia’s cultural commitment is clear. It was once said of Herod the Great, “better to be his pig (Greek hus ) than his son (Greek huios )”. Likewise, better to be Mr. Shafia’s dog than his daughter.
Better his whore than his wife.
I could be persuaded to support the death penalty for this man, assuming that the evidence against him is overwhelmingly clear. Many details of the case have yet to be revealed. We don’t even know the cause of death: although the four bodies were found in a car, submerged in the Rideau canal, autopsy results have not yet been released.
Earlier this week, Kingston Police Chief Stephen Tanner held a press conference to announce that Mr. Shafia, his second wife and his son were being charged with murder. He opened the press conference with a moment of silence to honour victims of domestic violence.
Amen to that.