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Kingston police have charged the mother, father and brother of three young girls found dead with a caregiver in a car submerged in the Rideau Canal with first-degree murder.

The bodies of Zainab Shafia, 19, Sahari Shafia, 17, Geeti Shafia, 13, and Rona Amir Mohammad, 50, were discovered June 30 in a Nissan Sentra under water in the Kingston Mills locks.

At a press conference yesterday, police said they had charged Mohammad Shafia, the girls' father, Tooba Mohammad Yahya, the girls' mother, and, Hamed Mohammad-Shafia, 18, the girls' oldest brother with four counts each of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. Police also revealed that Ms. Mohammad, previously identified as a female relative, is believed to be Mr. Shafia's first wife.

While police would not confirm that the deaths had been an "honour killing," as has been suggested in reports by The Kingston Whig-Standard, they said that "the culture issue" may have played a role.

"Whether that was a part of a motive within the family based on one of the girl's or all of the girls' behaviours," police said, is "open to speculation."

They also said that, while the girls were Canadian teenagers, the family may have held different values, and "different sets of views."

Inspector Brian Begbie, of the Kingston Police Criminal Investigation Unit, said the 2004 black Nissan Sentra was discovered under water on June 30 at 9:30 a.m.

Three hours later, Mr. Shafia visited a Kingston police station with his wife and son to report that his three daughters, cousin and car had disappeared.

Mr. Shafia told police that his daughters had a history of taking the car without permission, but police confirmed that the family had been travelling together that day from Niagara Falls in two vehicles, the Nissan and a Lexus SUV. The family was last seen at a Kingston motel in the early hours of June 30.

"Investigators have been successful in linking the Lexus SUV and the three accused persons to the locks," Insp. Begbie said.

Police did not release the cause of the girls' death, but said repeatedly that the 13-man team assigned to the case faced "unique and unbelievable challenges" in conducting the investigation.

The family, originally from Kabul, Afghanistan, spent 15 years in Dubai before moving to Montreal two years ago.

In the immediate aftermath of the drowning, the surviving Shafias had grieved their loss openly and shared family photographs with the reporters they allowed into their home.

Autopsy results have not been made public so far.

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