Canadian justice needs to be unyielding with those who kill women and children for what they deem to be culturally appropriate reasons. There is reason to question whether it gave too much ground, in the murder of 16-year-old Aqsa Parvez of Mississauga, Ont., by her father, Muhammad Parvez, and her brother, Waqas.
Crown prosecutors called it an honour killing, a murder to erase the shame of the men in an immigrant, traditionalist family from Pakistan in which a daughter sought Western-style freedoms, such as a part-time job. If that was so, the Crown should have sought the strongest possible sentence, that of first-degree murder, based on evidence of planning and deliberateness. The brother, for instance, had asked a friend days earlier if he could get him a gun to kill his sister.
Instead the Crown attorneys, Sandra Caponecchia and Mara Basso, accepted guilty pleas to second-degree murder. Both first- and second-degree murder bring an automatic life sentence, but in the former, parole eligibility comes after 25 years; in the latter, it is set by a judge at between 10 and 25. In the Parvez case, a judge accepted a recommendation of 18 years offered by the Crown and defence.
The reasons for plea bargains include keeping a busy system operating efficiently, sparing a victim from testifying and obtaining a conviction on a lesser charge where one might be in doubt on a more serious charge.
But in this case, the victim was dead. The case cries out not for efficiency but for justice, both for Ms. Parvez and the wider community. The state needs to drive the point home that the killings of women and children to save personal prestige is always horribly wrong. Honour killing is a terrible misnomer. A father who kills his child, a brother who kills his sister disgraces himself.
Joseph Neuberger, a lawyer for Waqas Parvez, said the Crown had to consider that some evidence against one or both of the accused might not have been admitted into court. The guilty pleas brought finality; the trial might have taken nine or 10 weeks, and there might have been appeals afterward.
Against all that, a teenage girl was brutally murdered for reasons that, the Crown said, had their roots in cultural practices that Pakistan has barred (honour killings are punishable by death) since 2004. Those practices continue anyway, and amount to one in five homicides in that country, according to an epidemiological study published last year in the European Journal of Public Health. Over four years, there were 1,957 of these killings.
It would be wrong to imply that some patriarchal cultural practices from abroad are the biggest threat to this country's children. The number of children and teenagers who are homicide victims in Canada is frighteningly high - 401 between 1998 and 2003, roughly the size of an elementary school. Family members committed two-thirds of the solved cases.
But when the threat of cultural killings of women or children arises, it needs to be confronted with the full force of the justice system. That includes a willingness to go to trial on a charge of first-degree murder, where the evidence warrants it.