Mother accused of killing four testifies in her own defence

A woman accused of killing her three daughters and her husband’s other wife suggested Monday that one daughter tried to commit suicide because of a pair of pants, and not because she was deeply unhappy at home.

KINGSTON, Ont. — A woman accused of killing her three daughters and her husband’s other wife suggested Monday that one daughter tried to commit suicide because of a pair of pants, and not because she was deeply unhappy at home.

Tooba Yahya, 42, on trial along with her husband and son, took the stand as the Shafia family murder trial resumed after the holidays. In often rambling testimony punctuated by heavy sighs, she denied that any of the four victims of what prosecutors allege was a so-called honour killing were treated poorly or abused. Court has heard evidence to the contrary.

Yahya, Mohammad Shafia, 58, and their eldest son, Hamed, 21, are accused of killing four female relatives over family honour, pushing them into a canal in a car and drowning them. They have each pleaded not guilty to four counts of first-degree murder.

Shafia sisters, Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17, and Geeti, 13, along with Rona Amir Mohammad, 52, Shafia’s first wife in a polygamous marriage, were found in a car at the bottom of a canal in Kingston, Ont., on June 30, 2009, when the Montreal family was heading home after a trip to Niagara Falls, Ont.

The Crown alleges that Shafia in particular was upset that the girls were dating and telling authorities they didn’t feel safe at home, and that they were killed to restore family honour.

Court has heard from school and child protection authorities that Sahar, under pressure to wear a hijab and being shunned by her family, was so upset that she tried to kill herself.

Yahya remembered the attempt by her daughter, who she said would constantly threaten suicide if she didn’t get her own way, but said that Sahar had done it because she was upset that her older sister wore her pants to a party.

Mohammad described the incident differently in a diary entered as an exhibit at the trial, writing that when informed of the suicide attempt Yahya said, “She can go to hell. Let her kill herself.”

“No, I never say anything like this,” Yahya testified Monday in Dari through an interpreter. “I was afraid and I was crying.”

Court has heard evidence that Mohammad was deeply unhappy in the home and that Shafia and Yahya severely restricted her movements and telephone use. Mohammad wrote in a diary that Yahya was cold toward her and threatened her, and that Shafia beat her. Not true, Yahya said. Mohammad was very happy and the two wives got along well, she said.

“Any person can write whatever they want,” Yahya said.

But Yahya did admit that after she married Shafia, he no longer slept with Mohammad and she saw no evidence of a husband-wife relationship between them.

She broke down in tears when describing how upset Mohammad was at not being able to conceive — the reason Shafia took a second wife — and how she essentially gave Sahar to Mohammad to raise as her own daughter.

Yahya said there were no rules in the household dictating what the girls should or shouldn’t wear, and all the children were subject to the same curfew. Court has heard that the older girls were under pressure to wear a hijab and that they would change their clothes once they got to school.

When the kids did break the rules, Yahya tried to keep it secret from Shafia, she testified.

“I knew (his) habit that if there was a small thing he used to make it a big thing,” Yahya said. “He used to go on and continuously he was just swearing at them and continuously talk about that for weeks.”

Shafia has already taken the stand in his defence, and it remains to be seen whether Hamed will testify.

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