The husband of slain Toronto physician Elana Fric-Shamji was sentenced Thursday to life in prison with no chance of parole for 14 years, after pleading guilty last month to her November, 2016, murder.
“This is an extremely tragic case. Three young children have lost their mother forever,” Superior Court Justice John McMahon told the courtroom as he delivered his sentence Thursday. “It is also yet another case of domestic homicide, which this court sees all too frequently.”
Mohammed Shamji, who was a neurosurgeon at the time, killed the mother of three in the couple’s bedroom on Nov. 30, 2016 – during an argument, two days after she had filed for divorce. He beat and choked her to death and then forced her body into a suitcase, which he dumped in a river 35 kilometres north of Toronto. He carried on from there with his usual routine, even performing surgeries. He pleaded ignorance about his wife’s whereabouts, and then lied and said that she had run off with a boyfriend.
“She did what she was legally entitled to do,” Justice McMahon said Thursday. “She took steps in the legal process to end an unhappy marriage. Women, or men, have the right to end a relationship without having to fear abuse – or as in this case, even death, by deciding to leave.”
Research has shown that the days around a partner’s decision to leave are some of the most dangerous in an abusive relationship. Between 2003 and 2016, Ontario’s Domestic Violence Death Review Committee reviewed 289 cases of domestic homicide and homicide-suicide involving 410 deaths. In 67 per cent of those cases, the couple had separated or were in the process of separating.
Dr. Shamji was initially charged with first-degree murder in his wife’s death, but he pleaded guilty on the eve of his trial last month to the lesser charge of second-degree murder. It was a bittersweet resolution for Dr. Fric-Shamji’s family. Significantly, it spared her oldest daughter – a key witness in the case – from having to testify about what she saw the night her mother was killed.
The then-11-year-old awoke that night to the sounds of banging and her mother’s screams in her parents’ bedroom. When she went to investigate, her father ordered her back to bed. The next morning, her mother was gone.
A second-degree murder conviction carries a mandatory life sentence, and Justice McMahon’s job Thursday was to determine what length of time – between 10 and 25 years – that the 43-year-old should serve before being eligible to apply for parole.
He ultimately ruled that a mid-range period of parole ineligibility of 14 years – which had been jointly proposed by both prosecution and defence – “reflects the gravity of the violence in a domestic murder, but also acknowledges the remorse and guilty plea and the positive antecedents of the accused.”
Dr. Shamji’s parents, who were in court Thursday, have said they will stand by him through his rehabilitation. Patients had also written letters of support, praising his professional accomplishments.
“It’s a difficult juxtaposition of saving their lives and taking his wife’s life,” Justice McMahon noted.
Friends and family have described Dr. Fric-Shamji as a devoted mother, a well-respected family doctor, and a rising star in the public-policy field. Surrounded by supporters outside the courthouse Thursday, her mother, Ana Fric, spoke at length about the domestic violence her daughter had endured for 12 years before she was killed.
The couple had appeared on social media to live an idealistic life – complete with marathon runs and glamorous vacations and ambitious careers. But in reality, their marriage had been “volatile and dysfunctional,” marred by escalating abuse. Ms. Fric said she had repeatedly encouraged her daughter to leave.
“Each time,” Ms. Fric recalled, “she would say ‘Mom do we have to go through this again?’ It was clear that she continued to hope things would improve.”
In the months leading up to her murder, Dr. Fric-Shamji had twice been persuaded by her husband to give him a second chance. When she tried to end it for good, she was killed. Now, her mother asks that “Elana’s memory [be] kept alive, in the hope that other women can be saved from such a horrible fate.”
“Elana died in her home that she shared with her sleeping children and the accused,” Justice McMahon said. “This is the place that a person should feel the safest. Sadly, this is the place where she lost her life.”