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Kingston police fed suspects false information during probe, 'honour killings' trial hears

The Kingston Mills Locks, where Mohammad Shafia and his wife, Tooba Mohammad Yahya, together with their son Hamed Mohammad Shafia, are alleged to have killed their daughters Zainab, 19; Sahar, 17; and Geeti, 13; and Rona Amir Mohammad, Mr. Shafia's first wife.

Lars Hagberg/Lars Hagberg/THE CANADIAN PRESS

During the runup to the arrest of three Afghan-Canadians alleged to have committed multiple so-called honour killings 2 1/2 years ago, the suspects may have thought the friendly Kingston police were in their corner and really believed that the deaths of four family members stemmed from an unfortunate accident.

If so, the trio was wrong.

Evidence aired Friday at their murder trial showed that within three days of the four bodies being found, Kingston police were circling, preparing to swoop, while weaving an artful web of subterfuge.

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On the witness stand was Detective Constable Steve Koopman, one of the first police officers at the Kingston Mills lock, where the drowned bodies of teen-aged sisters Zainab, Sahar and Geeti Shafia were discovered on the morning of June 30, 2009, together with that of their father's first wife.

In the days ahead, Det. Constable Koopman became the police point man for the seemingly grief-stricken Shafia family. He attended the funeral in Montreal, and seemed to offer every kind of assistance he could.

But it was, in his words, "a strategy or a ploy on my part."

On July 3, he'd been told by Staff-Sgt. Chris Scott, who headed the police investigation, that the deaths were now being treated as a case of murder.

And in the days ahead, the suspects were fed numerous pieces of false information.

Businessman Mohammad Shafia, 58, his second wife, Tooba Mohammad Yahya, 41, and their eldest son, Hamed, 20, have each pleaded not guilty to four counts of first-degree murder.

They were charged in July, 2009, three weeks after the bodies were discovered in a car at the bottom of a waterway lock on the Rideau Canal, just east of the city.

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Also in the submerged Nissan Sentra was Rona Amir Mohammad, 53, who arrived in Montreal in 2007, three months after the others immigrated.

Ostensibly, she was the cousin of Mohammad Shafia, who gained entry under Quebec's investor immigrant program and soon purchased a $2-million shopping plaza in Laval. In fact, however, she was his first wife, and lived with the rest of the family in a clandestine polygamous marriage.

The cause of death was drowning, autopsies showed, but fresh bruising was also found, and just how the four perished has never been clear.

Travelling in two cars, the Nissan and a Lexus , the 10-member party had been returning to Montreal after a short vacation in Niagara Falls. The three defendants told police a terrible accident had somehow occurred during an overnight stay at a Kingston motel, when Zainab and the other three victims took the Nissan for a mysterious joyride.

Police swiftly suspected foul play, however, and the prosecution thesis is that multiple so-called honour killings were committed, and that the women were already dead when the Nissan was pushed into the lock by the Lexus.

This was allegedly done to restore the family's "reputation," supposedly stained by the independent-minded conduct of the three Shafia sisters, in particular the dating habits of the eldest two.

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And for detectives, the Lexus was of particular interest. Mr. Shafia allowed it to be taken away and examined, but when he and his son asked for it back a couple of days later, they were told that the requisite technicians in Montreal were away, so there would be a regrettable delay.

In fact the car had been hauled to Kingston on a flat-bed truck, and was now under a police microscope.

Other traps were laid. When the Shafia family visited the Kingston locks, shortly before their arrest, the police got there first and installed phony cameras at the gatehouse. The footage might help determine what had happened, the suspects were told.

In fact there was no footage. As the police helpfully guided the family around the scene, a hidden eavesdropping device was being installed in their car, to listen in on the suspects' response to the "cameras" revelation as they drove back to Montreal.

And even after they were charged, the ever-agreeable Det. Constable Koopman played the role of a somewhat clueless policeman who knew little about the case and had inconveniently had his vacation in the Adirondacks interrupted. In fact, he was in on the ground floor of the investigation from the start and had never left town.

The jury also heard evidence about the voluminous cellphone calls and text messages sent back and forth by the various family members during their trip to Niagara Falls and back, and one item may have leapt out at them.

Hamed Shafia insisted to police that once he reached Niagara Falls he stayed there with the others until the family's departure on June 29.

But a cellphone record showed that on June 27 he was in the Kingston area, and the implication was clear – that while the others remained in Niagara Falls, Hamed had made a quick reconnaissance trip to the Kingston Mills locks, and then returned to Niagara Falls.

The trial resumes Monday.

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About the Author

At The Globe and Mail since 1982, in assorted manifestations, chiefly crime reporter, foreign correspondent and member of the Editorial Board, Tim is now retired. More

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