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Thursday, February 2, 2012

Shafia Murder Case

In Canada, headlines have been telling the story of the honour killing murder case involving the Shafia family. It has held the attention of the newspapers across the country for weeks. Last Sunday, three members of the family were convicted. Mohammed Shafia, his wife Tooba Yahya and their 21 year old son Hamed were convicted of first degree murder on the deaths of Shafia's three teenage daughters and his first wife. The verdict was widely reported in the international media.

The case has also garnered criticism directed at child protection authorities in Quebec who, it has been suggested, could have intervened in a way that may have saved the lives of the three teenagers. The relevant authority acknowledges that they had contact with the girls. The series of events is summarized by CBC News in Montreal which notes that, while the girls raised concerns through the school, they were fearful of what would happen if their father learned of their concerns.

Source: Trial Evidence Photo - Zanaib - one of the photos that allegedly enraged the father

The case is one which can be all too familiar to child protection authorities. Allegations are made, later recanted, denied by parents and there is lack of follow through by the teenagers. Yet, the case has also raised some very significant challenges for child protection with one of the most concerning being that social workers may have placed too much emphasis on respecting the family culture as opposed to protecting the children.

Homa Arjomand, who is a transitional support counsellor in Toronto and the founder of the International Campaign Against Sharia Court in Canada, told Canadian media:

"The greater success will come when social workers, children's aid workers, police, teachers and all crisis workers start to care more about the individual crying out for help, rather than for the culture of the parents or the husband," Arjomand said.
"We must stop training counsellors to be culturally sensitive," she said. "Instead, we need to hear the victims, listen to them and treat them equally with any other Canadian woman or child exposed to violence." (CALGARY HERALD)
The challenge for social workers in this case may well transcend just issues of culture, however. Children who live in fear, like an abused spouse, may not be in a position to risk telling the story if they cannot be assured of their safety. The problem may be that child protection authorities became blinded to the family as a place of domestic violence because of the deference to culture.

The head of the relevant child protection authority is quoted as saying:

“I think it's a failing that we share with the rest of Canadians, in terms of not having the consciousness of how extreme some of these behaviours are,” Ms. BĂ©rard said. “We think they're so far away and will never come home, but they are actually home right now in our own country, and we have to deal with them.” (GLOBE AND MAIL)
Thus, one way to think of the culture sensitivity, is that, yes, people do bring to Canada different views of parenting - but - those are not always safe ways to parent as defined by the laws and culture of Canada. Child protection must be willing to challenge families whose methods are not within the boundaries of acceptable.

While there is likely still much to be learned about this case, it should cause reflection about balancing cultural respect with ensuring the safety of children. Fear of a parent can and does cause children to be wary of telling the truth. Recanting a story is common in such circumstances and it does make it hard to know what is going on. Trying to understand the motives of a child can help but it would not have been hard to frame what the girls were saying as average parent teen conflict. Yet the running away by one, suicide attempt by another, obvious fear when speaking to school authorities should have been data that was combined to raise alarms.

The deceased - Source Trail Evidence

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