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Quebec insurance plan could pay Shafia, even if he is convicted

The car in which the bodies of four members of the Shafia family were found is removed from the Kingston Mills locks in 2009.


Sometimes crime does pay, as is the case in Quebec when a vehicle is used to perpetrate an illegal act.

Under the province's no-fault automobile insurance law, even if a person is found criminally responsible for killing someone, the guilty remain eligible to receive benefits. And that may include two of three defendants in the "honour killings" murder trial in Kingston, where the bodies of four women were found in a submerged car at a Rideau Canal lock as part of an alleged staging of a car accident.

According to personal injury lawyer and former Quebec justice minister Marc Bellemare, two of the three defendants, Mohammad Shafia and his second wife Tooba Mohammad Yahya from Montreal, accused of killing Mr. Shafia's first wife and three daughters, may be entitled to more than $300,000 in benefits under the no-fault plan whether the couple is found guilty or not.

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The plan covers all Quebec residents regardless of whether the vehicle mishap occurs in the province or not.

Mr. Bellemare said the no-fault plan is so absurd that even if Mr. Shafia was found guilty of murder, he could request $47,000 for each of the three dead daughters – Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17 and Geeti, 13 – and between $61,000 and $310,000 for the death of his first wife, Rona Amir Mohammed, as well as a monthly indemnity. The plan would also allow for close to $15,000 for funeral services. Ms. Tooba Mohammad Yahya would be entitled to a lump-sum payment for the loss of the three daughters.

"It sends the wrong message. It tells criminals that they can get paid for their crimes," Mr. Bellemare said. "The Shafia example is an extreme case, but you see this happening every day."

One such incident involved an army corporal who, while intoxicated, engaged police in a high-speed chase in Quebec City. He killed four young people. Mr. Bellemare said the man received $86,000 for the loss of an eye during the accident, twice the total amount the four victim's families were entitled to receive at the time. The tragic event took place in 1987 and it launched Mr. Bellemare on a crusade to change the law. The promise of reform prompted him to run for office as a provincial Liberal, and he was appointed justice minister in 2003, only to resign shortly afterwards when Premier Jean Charest backtracked and refused to change the law.

Mr. Bellemare said there can be no clearer example than the Shafia case to show why Quebec's no-fault insurance plan is in dire need of reform.

But a spokesperson for the Quebec automobile insurance board, Gino Desrosier, said that if Mr. Shafia and his wife are found guilty, they may not be entitled to benefits. He explained that the vehicle in which the bodies of the four women were found was allegedly used as an instrument to cover up a murder rather than a means of transportation. This could disqualify the defendants from seeking an indemnity.

"The board would have to review all the facts in the case … but each case is examined individually," Mr. Desrosier said. "If the Shafias are found guilty, this would substantiate the police's claim that the vehicle was used to camouflage a murder and therefore wasn't used for the primary purpose of transporting people. This could disqualify them from receiving benefits."

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But allowing criminals to even file a claim demonstrates the ambiguity of a law that needs to be re-examined, Mr. Bellemare said. He has proposed for years that anyone found criminally responsible should be denied benefits. The law also has to be changed, he added, to allow victims the right to sue those responsible for their injuries.

"The law is just not fair," Mr. Bellemare said. "… It has to be changed."

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About the Author
Quebec City political correspondent

Rhéal Séguin is a journalist and political scientist. Born and educated in southern Ontario, he completed his undergraduate degree in political science at York University and a master's degree in political science at the Université du Québec à Montréal.Rhéal has practised journalism since 1978, first with Radio-Canada in radio and television and then with CBC Radio. More

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