They came to Canada in search of a better life. But somewhere along the way, the immigrant dreams of Muhammad Parvez and his eight children went horribly astray. Tuesday, in a Brampton court, Parvez and his son Waqas pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for killing Aqsa Parvez, 16. Both father and son took blame for strangling her. But Aqsa’s death and the cultural context that surrounded it raised troubling questions: Was this the GTA’s first honour killing? Or was Parvez simply a domineering father, who feared losing control of his youngest daughter?
“For it to be an honour killing, it has to be premeditated murder,” said Amin A. Muhammad, an honour killing expert based at Memorial University. “There was no one incident here which led them to want to regain their honour. It was over a period of time, and it was also about this father losing control.”
During Tuesday’s proceedings, the Crown said the murder was a classic case of an honour killing: the father had been ashamed by his daughter’s actions, her defiance of his rules, and her willingness to share her problems at home with others. Family members said he spoke of being fed up of her actions. His son Waqas, told a friend, that his father wanted her dead. Community activist Uzma Shakir argues that using honour as an alibi is a slippery slope.
“What makes you think you understand this person’s notion of honour?” she said. “In his mind, it may be honour, but I think most people will say taking your own child’s life is dishonourable.”
At the time of Aqsa’s murder in 2007, it was believed that she had been killed for simply refusing to wear a hijab, as her friends told the media following her death. But the statement of facts read in court shows the situation inside the Parvez household was much more complex. It was never about imposing religious doctrine on Aqsa, it was simply about controlling every aspect of her life. Parvez’s controlling nature wasn’t limited to Aqsa. He admitted to officials he still used force on his adult sons. He had arranged the marriages of all his children — including Aqsa — to cousins in Pakistan without their consent, and didn’t allow the women in his home to work or wear non-traditional clothing. Parvez’s behaviour may have been linked to his roots from a deeply patriarchal village in rural Pakistan. Until he arrived in Toronto, and his family joined him in 2001, his own family may have never realized he was in the wrong.
“He came to Canada, and all of a sudden the cultural norms were different,” said Shakir.
And until Aqsa, no one had dared to oppose him or speak out against him. In many ways, the issues of familial conflict and culture clash within the Parvez family are not unique. Many immigrants find it difficult to leave their cultural baggage behind when they arrive. Parents fear losing their culture, and impose harsh rules and limits on their children – hoping it will protect their children from going astray. On top of that, they face reduced access to employment, have financial strains, and begin to lose control in more ways then one. Parvez worked as a taxi driver, splitting his daylong shift with his son. He was the sole breadwinner for his large family.
“This whole process puts a lot of tension between parents and children — and it can create stress in the family,” said Nikhat Rasheed, a community worker and researcher based in Mississauga. “There are a lot of adjustment issues, and violence is one very ugly way that some people deal with it.”
“Chances are when he lost control of Aqsa, he was losing control of many other things in his life as well,” said Shakir.
What makes this case exceptional was exactly how far Parvez was willing to go.
“There are probably a lot of fathers in the community who are having heart attacks because of their daughter’s behaviour, but they are not out there killing them,” said Shakir.
The hard part now is how to prevent such a tragedy from happening again.
“Her father was pathological, her family was not able to protect, her school would not take her seriously enough to give her the kind of protection she needed,” said Shakir.
“All of those things had to happen to create the tragedy called Aqsa Parvez. And to pin it on one man. . . means that we learned nothing from this, and we won’t be able to prevent another case from happening,” she said.
Oops, forgot source!
Interesting points, but adjusting to cultural norms goes both ways. I'm not going to parade around in a bikini in Saudi Arabia - but the flipside is that I expect adaptation to Canadian cultural norms too. If a 16-year old girl feels more comfortale wearing a hijab, so long as it's her choice, that's great -- but she should also be able to wear blue jeans without the fear of abuse or death from her family. IMO, there is not enough support in place in this country for young girls in these types of situations, or support/education for the parents. No, not every immigrant family is going to kill their daughter for wearing lip gloss; but that doesn't mean we can ignore the tragic consequences of problems with cultural adjustment as isolated incidences.