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Aqsa Parvez’s father, brother plead guilty in death

After rejecting the strict cultural traditions of her family and an arranged marriage, 16-year-old Aqsa Parvez died in an apotheosis of anger, strangled by her father and older brother in her bedroom, a room in the crowded home she was not allowed to have a door on under her father’s stifling control.

The insular walls of the Parvez home in Mississauga, just west of Toronto, were penetrated on Tuesday as her father, Muhammad Parvez, 60, and her brother, Waqas, 29, unexpectedly pleaded guilty to her murder, in what prosecutors say was “a gender-based crime motivated by patriarchal concepts of honour and shame.”

After killing his youngest child early in the morning of Dec. 10, 2007, the Parvez patriarch woke his wife to tell her why, declaring: “My community will say you have not been able to control your daughter. This is my insult. She is making me naked.”

Court heard of the mounting conflict between Aqsa, a Grade 11 student who embraced Western culture, and her family.

She had no privacy, not even in her bedroom, which had to be passed through by her parents whenever they went to their own room. A part of her bedroom wall was even removed, providing a view inside to her parents, her seven siblings or the wives of three of her brothers who also lived in the house.

Her telephone access was restricted. She was not allowed to socialize and had to go straight home after school and was expected to remain with her family on weekends.

And when she told her father in 2006 that she no longer wished to wear the hijab, the headscarf worn by some Muslim women, it was done at a school-arranged mediation with officials of the Children’s Aid Society and India Rainbow Services present.

He refused to permit it.

The familial conflict over Pakistani tradition and Western culture in the year leading to her slaying documented in court the so-called “honour killing” nature of the crime, a contention that was controversial at the time of her death.

The Parvez patriarch came to Canada from Pakistan in 1999 with his eldest son and was granted refugee status. In 2001, the matriarch, Anwar Jan, joined him along with their seven other children, including Aqsa who was 11.

“All of the women in the family dressed traditionally. None of the women in the family worked outside the home. The women were financially dependent on the men,” says an agreed statement of facts read in court.

“The marriages of all of the children were traditionally arranged. All the children married their cousins from Pakistan, who subsequently immigrated to Canada.”

A husband had already been picked out in Pakistan for Aqsa and arrangements between the families were underway.

A year before her murder, Aqsa confided to friends and school officials of arguments at home. She said a sister who also attended Applewood High School was spying on her and reporting to her father.

School officials met with her father on Sept. 17, 2007, court heard. He said he intended to pull Aqsa out of the public school and enrol her in an Islamic school. Aqsa was asked what she wanted and she said she wished to stay at Applewood. After discussions, he agreed to let her stay.

Privately, however, she told school officials she was afraid to return home because of what had taken place. She said that she had been told by her father to say she wished to leave.

“Aqsa told her counsellor that she was afraid her father would kill her because she did not say what she was supposed to,” according to the statement of facts.

The counsellor arranged for her to stay at a shelter that night. At the end of the school day she returned to the counsellor’s office, shaken. Her father and a sister were waiting for her outside the school. The counsellor took her out the back door and into a taxi to the shelter.

When she did not appear at home, Parvez reported his daughter missing to police. He said they had argued at the start of the day about her not wanting to wear traditional clothing to school.

What he did not know was that at least a couple of days a week during the school year, just before class, Aqsa would grab classmate Katelynn Knapp and yank her into the bathroom.

There, Aqsa would remove her hijab and traditional attire and pull on jeans and a T-shirt.

“I remember we were sitting in the hall one day and Aqsa put on this really nice outfit, like something I would have worn,” Katelynn, 17, who shared a fashion class with Aqsa, told the National Post.

“I told her she looked pretty in it and she said, “˜Thank you, but I shouldn’t be wearing this.’ I asked her why and she said, “˜My dad will kill me if he finds out.’ “

It was a threat she said was made often.

“I’d tell her she was being overdramatic,” Katelynn said. “I didn’t think it was true.”

Aqsa stayed in a shelter for three nights until her sister, Irim, pleaded in a letter, delivered by a mutual friend, for her to return home.

Upon her return, her mother took her shopping for Western clothes and she was allowed to attend school in non-traditional clothes. But her other restrictions continued.

She started skipping classes to spend time with her friends and her marks suffered. She was twice suspended for absenteeism.

Her father started coming to the school; numerous times he was escorted off of school property.

Family counselling was arranged in the fall of 2007.

In Canada, an angry Parvez complained at one session, “women are able to open their mouths because they have rights, but if the same woman was in Pakistan, she don’t dare open her mouth.”

Aqsa was quiet at the session. Her mother just cried.

At the end of November, she told a friend she was going to leave home. She was afraid, however.

Her father, she said, had “sworn to her on the Koran that if she ran away again he would kill her,” the statement of facts says.

On Nov. 27, 2007, Aqsa packed a bag and left for school with the intention of not returning home.

Her mother became suspicious, however, and confronted her at the bus stop, taking away her knapsack. Aqsa spent the next week at friends’ homes anyway.

In one of these homes Aqsa had an emotional meeting with her parents. Despite their tears she refused to go with them. A few days later, they met again in a coffee shop. Her father offered her an apartment in the basement and an allowance of $100 a month. She declined.

The week before her death, as she lived at a friend’s house, she prepared a résumé in her quest for a part-time job.

“During this week, Aqsa appeared happy and determined to start a new life for herself,” says the statement. What she did not know was that her brother, Waqas, was trying to get a gun, telling a colleague that he was going to kill his sister and his father was going to take the blame.

On Monday, Dec. 10, 2007, Aqsa was waiting for a bus to take her to school. Before it arrived, Waqas pulled up in a van.

“Oh my God, he is here again,” she told a friend, adding she would be right back. She got into her brother’s van at 7:20 a.m.

Asqa was strangled in her room and her father called a family meeting – motioning with his hands how he had killed her – before, at 7:56 a.m., phoning 911 to say he had “killed his daughter” with his own hands.

At 8:03 a.m. police arrived and found Aqsa lying face up on her bed. She had no vital signs and blood dribbled from her nose.

Inside the home were 11 family members.

Aqsa’s father told officers he had killed her and he was arrested while other officers performed CPR. That evening at hospital she was pronounced dead.

An autopsy declared the cause as “neck compressions.”

Six months after the murder, the brother admitted to the man he had earlier tried to buy a gun from that the guilt was killing him. He admitted he killed his sister with the complicity of his father. Police recorded the conversation.

A DNA analysis showed Aqsa’s blood on the father’s hands but her brother’s DNA under the girl’s finger nails.

Tuesday’s guilty pleas to second-degree murder mean automatic life sentences. In a joint recommendation, both the Crown and defence lawyers asked for 18 years incarceration before parole.

“Aqsa Parvez’s murder was a gender-based crime motivated by patriarchal concepts of honour and shame, which the defendants had chosen to adopt,” Crown attorney Mara Basso told the court.

Ms. Basso spoke at length about the “chilling” system of patriarchal control that dominated the Parvez family, so much so that family members defended Aqsa’s slaying in statements to police.

“The embarrassment of males in the family is enough to warrant murder,” Ms. Basso said, noting women in the household were viewed as “property, without equal rights.”

The defence, however, strove to avoid characterizing the crime as an honour killing, suggesting instead it was a simple domestic homicide.

Joseph Ciraco, representing Muhammad Parvez, spoke about Aqsa’s rebellion

“While there were cultural overtones to the family’s history, there was also a great deal more than that at play,” he said.

Joseph Neuberger, lawyer for Waqas Parvez, acknowledged “archaic gender beliefs” played a role in the killing, but added: “To a large extent we want to characterize this as … a domestic-related situation.”

Muhammed Parvez, who listened with the aid of an Urdu interpreter, declined to address the court but his son, speaking softly and reading from a prepared note, accepted responsibility for his actions.

“I love my family and I do not blame anyone for my actions,” he said.

Family members, including Aqsa’s mother and brothers, sat through Tuesday’s proceedings but declined to comment afterwards.

Judge Bruce Durno will issue his sentencing ruling on Wednesday.

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