Saturday 18 December 2010

Honour Killings: new term, old idea

Canada has seen a number of high profile incidents involving the murder of a daughter or a sister by a male family member in South Asian or Middle Eastern communities. The term honour killing has been used to designate this particular phenomenon but just how widespread is this problem and is this problem only particular to those communities?

Aqsa Parvez
On December 10, 2007 16 year old Aqsa Parvez was murdered by her brother with her father complicit. Both eventually pleaded guilty to second degree murder and were sentenced to life imprisonment with no eligibility for parole until 2028. Why did these two gentlemen do such a heinous act? To save family pride. The father felt he had to save his family from the embarrassment of his daughter.

According to the story, the family moved from Pakistan in 2002 and there started a clash of cultures between traditional Pakistan and modern Canada. Mr. Parvez imposed strict rules following a customary Muslim style of life which included women being subservient and dressing modestly in conventional clothes and a hijab. Aqsa rebelled demanding more freedom to dress in a "Western fashion", not to wear the hijab and to have the same freedoms as other girls at school. Eventually the clash of the cultures turned into a clash between father and daughter and Mr. Parvez's perception that he had lost control of the situation and his daughter.

According to a CBC article, Aqsa told a counsellor at her school in September 2007 that she was afraid her father wanted to kill her. That is a very strong statement to make. While the school arranged for her to live in a shelter, she only stayed 3 days before returning home. The conflict did not stop and finally on December 10, the father decided to put an end to his problem.

Amandeep Kaur
On January 1, 2009, 48 year old Kamikar Singh Dhillon stabbed his step-daughter Amandeep Kaur, 22, to death. His justification was that he feared his daughter-in-law would leave his son for another man with whom she was allegedly having an affair. When the police investigated, they could find no evidence of said affair. According to the papers, when Kaur arrived in Canada, Dhillon attempted to exploit her. After she got her permanent residence, she started asserting herself and Dhillon's response was to kill her and spread lies about an affair.

In discussing this case, the web site NRIinternet.Com reported on January 9, 2009:

The term "honour killing" shouldn't be brought into the discussion are playing off "political correctness," said Tarek Fatah, founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress and author of Chasing a Mirage, The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State.

The killings, in which families or communities believe their honour justifies murder, are "a problem" in the Muslim and Sikh communities and merit a separate charge in the Criminal Code, Fatah said.

"This is a different sort of a killing in which the murderer, usually a male, acts in a way which is unconscionable from how we treat gender equality in this society," Fatah said. "There is almost no attempt made (in Canada) to teach people who come from patriarchal and misogynistic societies that women are not the property of men."

Frontier Centre for Public Policy
This think tank located in the Prairie Provinces published a paper entitled "Culturally Driven Violence against Women", July 2010. The author, Aruna Papp who has worked as a social worker, makes the following points:
  • “Honour killings” are carried out in order to cleanse the family name and restore the family honour. Unlike Western domestic violence, typically perpetrated bilaterally by one intimate partner on another, honour violence is perpetrated unilaterally within the family: against girls and women by male relatives—such as fathers, fathers-in-law, brothers, brothers-in-law, husbands and occasionally sons—often with the complicity of older females.
  • While violence against women is deplored in general in Canada, few researchers appreciate the many distinctions between historically observed Western patterns of abuse of women by men (and abuse of men by women) and newer, culturally driven abuse of girls and women by both men and women (with virtually no abuse of men by women in such culturally induced situations).
  • Amongst other differences, Western abuse is statistically infrequent, stems from psychological dysfunction around intimate relations between individual adults and is considered a cultural aberration by kinship groups and society in general. In contrast, culturally driven violence is statistically frequent, stems from culturally approved codes around collective family honour and shame, and is condoned and even facilitated by kinship groups and the community.
  • A growing body of research confirms that in patriarchal societies that are comprised of the self-appointed and more “authentic” non-Westernized bulk of the South Asian community, where honour/shame codes are rife (and even when legally proscribed), men are found to exercise rigid control over women. The result is a higher incidence of violence against women as compared with the mainstream Western host communities.
  • Many immigrants chose Canada because the foundation of this country is built on values of security, freedom and respect for all. Yet, there are thousands of women in Canada whose rights are not respected, who are neither free nor secure, because they dare not challenge their oppressors. For them, Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees men and women equal rights to life, liberty and security of the person, are mere words on a page in a book that remains closed to them.
Ms. Papp states in her introduction talks of the murders of 12 women since 2002 have been identified as honour killings.

It seems obvious that there is a strong connection to a patriarchal type of social structure. Whether we realise it or not, patriarchy is not a concept unknown in Western societies and it is certainly not unknown in Canada. Are honour killings only characteristic of immigrants?

Domestic Violence Death Review Committee
The Domestic Violence Death Review Committee (DVDRC) is a multi-disciplinary advisory Committee of experts who assist the Office of the Chief Coroner with the investigation and review of deaths involving domestic violence. In their 2009 report, they show that 152 women were murdered between 2002 and 2008 and the majority of the perpetrators were male. In 31% of these cases, the perpetrator committed suicide and half did so with a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The report goes on to detail that a significant percent of the perpetrators had a criminal history although not necessarily relating to domestic violence. A high percent of the situations occurred just after a major life change such as a separation or a divorce and consequently, it can be said that the victim and the perpetrator were involved in an intimate relationship.

Final Word
The expression "honour killing" has been introduced to the Canadian public in regards to murders occurring in immigrant families. However, the concept of an honour killing has always been within the Canadian society. All countries have suffered and still suffer to a certain extent from the concept of patriarchy, a male dominated social / family structure.

While anyone would bemoan the death of the 12 women in these honour killings over a period of 9 years across Canada, let's not forget that nearly 22 women die each year in Ontario alone as the result of domestic violence, a form of "honour killing". Due to the repetitive nature of the stories, we may become complacent, we may become desensitised to the tragedy which has been going on and which continues to go on in one of the most modern countries of the world.

According to StatsCan, 604 female spouses were killed between 1998 and 2007 or 60 per year. Yes, male spouses were also killed but the percentages show 63% were female and 24% were male. Anyone can argue that domestic conflicts are tense moments and hurtful to all parties involved, however the stats point to a prevalence of male instigated violence.

Honour killings may be a new expression in the Canadian lexicon but the idea has always been among us. Shame on anyone who participates in it or who justifies it. There is nothing on Earth which could defend such behaviour and we must all do everything possible to shed light on the problem and recognise it so we can all work towards solving it.

In my blog Marc Lépine: In remembrance of December 6, 1989 I discuss the question as to whether or not men are naturally more violent. Is it in our genes or is it a learned behaviour? I cite a report from the University of Southern California which states, "For example, boys raised by lesbians appear to be less aggressive and more nurturing than boys raised in heterosexual families." This may be too cut and dry but there is certainly more to study as to how males are socialised and just where their tendency to violence comes from.

Whatever the case, hearing a man say that "it is a question of my honour" brings up the entire issue of why there could possibly be any connection with personal honour. Patriarchy is very much alive and well.


Wikipedia: Aqsa Parvez

Punjab man in Canada jailed for life for honour killing - June 2009

Wikipedia: Tarek Fatah

Frontier Centre for Public Policy
Culturally Driven Violence Against Women
by Aruna Papp - July 2010

About the Frontier Centre for Public Policy
The Frontier Centre for Public Policy is an independent, western Canada based public policy "think tank" with offices in Winnipeg, Regina and Calgary. Our mission is to develop and popularize policy choices that will help Canada's prairie region live up to its vast but unrealized economic potential. The Centre was founded by a group of individuals interested in making the prairie region a good place to live, work and prosper. Our advisory board includes both experienced community leaders and academic specialists. Charitable status as a registered educational organization was granted by Revenue Canada in April 1999.

Seventh Annual Report of Domestic Violence Death Review Committee
Office of the Chief Coroner Province of Ontario 2009
The Domestic Violence Death Review Committee (DVDRC) is a multi-disciplinary advisory Committee of experts that was established in 2003 in response to recommendations made from two major inquests into the deaths of Arlene May / Randy Iles and Gillian and Ralph Hadley. The mandate of the DVDRC is to assist the Office of the Chief Coroner with the investigation and review of deaths involving domestic violence with a view to making recommendations aimed at preventing deaths in similar circumstances and reducing domestic violence in general.

StatsCan: Family Violence in Canada: A Statistical Profile 2009
This is the twelfth annual Family Violence in Canada report produced by the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics under the Federal Family Violence Initiative. This annual report provides the most current data on the nature and extent of family violence in Canada, as well as trends over time, as part of the ongoing initiative to inform policy makers and the public about family violence issues.

Each year the report has a different focus. This year, the focus of the report is a profile of shelters that provide residential services to women and children fleeing abusive situations. Data for this profile come from the Transition Home Survey, a biennial census of residential facilities for female victims of family violence in Canada.

In addition, using police-reported data, the report also presents fact sheets, data tables and figures examining spousal violence, family violence against children and youth, family violence against seniors (aged 65 years and older), and family-related homicides.


Site Map: William Quincy Belle

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