Canada: Aqsa Parvez’s father and son have both been given life sentences for her murder
For years, Muhammad Parvez had been in absolute control of his family: he set the rules, he made the decisions and he told his eight children, including the adult ones, exactly how to live their lives.
But Aqsa Parvez, 16, the youngest in the family, dared to challenge her father’s rule.
She first refused his demands to wear the hijab and the traditional Pakistani clothing her four older sisters always wore. She hung out with girls outside her own culture and when things became intolerable at home, she opted to live in a shelter.
Even when Parvez relented, and allowed her to wear urban-style jeans and T-shirts to school, she still wanted more freedom. Her father wouldn’t allow her to go to her friend’s homes or to the mall on the weekends. Even talking on the phone at night was forbidden. Eventually, she ran away for a second time.
Her defiance was the ultimate insult in the eyes of her domineering father. It was all too much for Muhammad Parvez to take.
On the morning of Dec. 10, 2007, Aqsa was murdered in the basement bedroom of her Mississauga home. Her room was the only bedroom without a door.
She had been strangled by her assailant’s bare hands.
Her death sent shock waves through the city — and across the world — prompting heated debate on the hijab, the challenges of integration for newcomers, and whether her death was Toronto’s first crime of honour or a horrible case of domestic violence.
On Tuesday, her father, Parvez, now 60, and his son Waqas, now 29, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in a Brampton courtroom. Each admitted they were equally responsible for her death.
Although neither took sole blame for her death as part of their plea, Waqas told the court that he took the blame for his actions, saying in a voice barely above a whisper: “I’m responsible.” His father simply thanked the court when given his chance to speak.
Justice Bruce Durno gave each the automatic sentence of life in prison.
Durno will decide Wednesday afternoon whether to grant a joint Crown-defence request for no parole for 18 years.
Crown prosecutors Sandra Caponecchia and Mara Basso would have prosecuted the father and son for first-degree murder — a slaying committed either with planning and premeditation or under forcible confinement — had they gone to trial as planned in January 2011. By pleading guilty, they avoided the mandatory life with no parole for a minimum 25 years.
The Crown intended to prosecute the case as an honour killing, and had been prepared to bring in an expert on honour killings in Pakistan as a witness.
On Tuesday, Basso told the court the “chilling gender-based” crime was motivated by “patriarchal concepts of honour and shame,” which these defendants had chosen to adopt.
“Embarrassment to the family is enough to warrant murder,” she said.
Defence lawyers Joseph Neuberger and Stacey Nichols for Waqas, and Joseph Ciraco for Muhammad Parvez, conceded there were cultural issues at play but insisted this was essentially a tragedy of “domestic violence.”
Aqsa’s mother Anwar Jan, who collapsed into tears near the end of the day, attended the dramatic court session with Waqas’s wife Uzma and her sons Ahtisham and Muhammad Shan.
Details of the lengthy preliminary hearing before Justice George Gage that spanned more than a dozen days, over six months in 2009 had been under a publication ban until now. The testimony of her family, friends, school officials and police paint a troubled picture of the events leading up to the high school student’s death.
Aqsa was murdered around 7:30 a.m. on Dec. 10, 2007 at her home on Longhorn Trail in Mississauga. At the time of her death, 12 people were in the house. Her two sisters, Irim and Shamsa slept in the bedroom across the hall from Aqsa’s bedroom but they told police they didn’t hear a sound that morning.
They said they learned about Aqsa’s death when they heard their mother crying hysterically and their father told them what he had done.
Media in Toronto and around the world immediately reported and continues to report that Aqsa was killed because she refused to wear the hijab. But it was much more complicated than that.
Parvez felt like he was losing control of a daughter who was failing most of her Grade 11 subjects at Applewood Heights Secondary School. He believed she would be better off attending an Islamic high school.
But at a meeting with her father and school officials on Sept. 17, 2007, she told them she wanted to stay where she was.
A day after the school meeting, Aqsa ran away from home for the first time. Her clandestine exit from her school was orchestrated by school officials and a social worker from Indian Rainbow, a non-profit agency for immigrants. They arranged for her to stay in a shelter.
The familial problems had been obvious a year earlier, when the local Children’s Aid Society (CAS) had been brought into speak with her father, once school officials became aware of growing cultural clash between Aqsa and her father, a taxi driver. Life after they had moved to Canada in 2001 was much different than the small village of Pur Miana in the Punjab area of Pakistan.
She told officials she feared she would be beaten, perhaps even killed, if she told her father she didn’t want to wear traditional clothing anymore to school, especially her hijab.
Now, after spending several days in a Mississauga shelter, she returned home after receiving a letter from Irim, telling her that her father would give her whatever she wanted so long as she returned home.
For a few weeks, things worked out. But the trouble started again.
During a second round of family mediation in November 2007, Parvez said it would be better for her to quit school and stay home.
She contemplated leaving home again but told a couple of her close friends in November that if “she ever messed up again,” her father would “kill me.”
She began to cry. “No, he swore on the Qur’an,” Aqsa said. “He said he’d kill me if I ever ran away again.”
Aqsa left home for the final time on Nov. 29, 2007, and settled in with a Pakistani family, who had a daughter Amal Tahir, friends with her sister Irim. The Tahir household was far less strict than her own home, and she felt safe there.
To her siblings, Aqsa’s actions were shocking. Running away from home was unheard of in a Pakistani household, they testified.
In a chilling police interview on the day Aqsa was killed, her mother crying and talking out loud to herself, was recorded as saying she thought her husband was only going to “break legs and arms,” but instead “killed her straight away.”
“Oh God, Oh God. . . Oh my Aqsa, you should have listened,” Anwar Jan said in a police interview room. “Everyone tried to make you understand. Everyone begged you, but you did not listen. . .”
When she asked her husband why he killed her, he told her: “This is my insult. My community will say you have not been able to control your daughter. This is my insult. She is making me naked.”
She told police that in her Pakistani culture, if a daughter doesn’t listen to her parents, she is punished. “Either they kill the girl or turn her out of the house,” she said.
Parvez was also worried about Aqsa’s future. All of his children had married their first cousins through arranged marriages. And the plan was for Aqsa to be married in the same way when she was old enough, to a boy in her brother’s wife’s family.
On the morning of Dec. 10, 2007, Aqsa walked with her friend Amal Tahir to catch their school bus when they spotted Parvez’s green Dodge Caravan waiting at a nearby stop sign. It was just before 7:20 a.m. and Waqas was in the driver’s seat.
Less than 20 minutes later, Parvez dialled 911. He explained in broken English what he had done. “I killed my daughter. . . with my hands,” he told the operator. “She wanted to take her stuff out.”
Police found Aqsa lying face up on top of the covers, fully dressed and wearing blue jeans. Paramedics found a faint pulse but she died that night.
Forensic pathologist Dr. Toby Rose concluded Aqsa died from a neck compression. A forensic examination revealed Aqsa’s blood was found on the palms of Parvez’s hands. Aqsa’s DNA was also found under Waqas’s fingernails and on the shoulder of his black leather jacket.
According to testimony, Waqas had discussed with friend and fellow tow truck driver Steve Warda, about the tense situation at home and the plan to kill her. He asked him if he could get him a gun.
In a recorded conversation months later, Waqas told he had choked her sister and the guilt was killing him. He couldn’t get his sister’s image out of her head.
On Tuesday as he left court, Aqsa’s brother Muhammad Shan said, “We are with them,” referring to his father and brother.
When asked about his dead sister, his eyes filled with tears. “There’s nothing to say. There’s nothing to say.”