Pascale Fournier giving a media interview following the verdict in the honour crime related Shafia case.

The Shafia trial and the issue of crimes of honour may well have changed the face of Canadian criminal law. The finding of the lifeless bodies of sisters Zainab Shafia, 19, Sahar Shafia, 17, and Geeti Shafia, 13, along with that of one of their polygamous father’s wives, Rona Amir Mohammed, 50, shocked large sectors of Canadian society. Mohammad Shafia, his wife Tooba Mohammad Yahya, and their son Hamed Mohammad Shafia, were each found guilty on four counts of first-degree murder. The alleged motive of the murder, restoring the family honour supposedly compromised by two Shafia girls having boyfriends and a third being “rebellious”, played a key role in the prosecution’s evidence of the intention and forethought behind the murder. The post-Shafia era is now upon us and we can no longer turn a blind eye on crimes of honour. This type of violence exists, and the Shafia case stands as a brutal reminder of the reality of this phenomenon. What sense can be made of this “cultural” form of gendered violence? Is it peculiar to Islam, or Eastern countries generally? Most of all, how should policy-makers, law-enforcement officials and front-line workers address this phenomenon? These are the questions that drive this project.

In the Spring of 2012, Professor Fournier co-edited a special edition of the Canadian Criminal Law Review (volume 16, issue 2) on the issue of crimes of honour, arguing for a contextual approach to minority citizenship which allows front-line actors to recognize situations of women and children vulnerability and to have the tools for efficient, sensible intervention and prevention while avoiding the pitfalls of racism and stigmatization. The Canadian Criminal Law Review (CCLR) features an interdisciplinary special issue: Shahrzad Mojab (University of Toronto), expert witness in the Shafia and Sadiqi trials, sociologist Anna Korteweg (University of Toronto), sociologist Valérie Amiraux, Samuel Blouin & Benjamin Prud’homme (Université de Montréal), legal scholar Pascale Fournier (University of Ottawa), Pascal McDougall (University of Toronto) & Anna R. Dekker (counsel, Department of Justice Canada) and religious studies scholar Lori G. Beaman (University of Ottawa). The participants discussed the legal treatment of crimes of honour and outlined the need for education work amongst judges and other legal actors. Intervention by the State to protect vulnerable members of minority being an unfortunate necessity, participants initiated discussion on what would become one of the impetuses of this project: the development and dissemination of practical know-how with regards to legal intervention among cultural minorities. One key debate among the participants to the special issue was whether or not the “honour crimes” label was useful to policy-makers and legal actors. Two trends coexist: one which worries about the symbolic effects of the honour crimes label and its obscuring of the universal nature of gendered violence, and a second trend, which sees the honour crimes label as a helpful category which, if correctly used, can assist those working on the front-line in preventing and combating this particular form of gendered violence. Most of the participants are somewhere between these two poles, navigating the particulars and the universals of violence against women and children and constantly re-evaluating their strategies and conceptual tools. In addressing crimes of honour and gendered violence, as former South African Constitutional Court justice and anti-apartheid activist Albie Sachs once wrote, “the most pertinent description and the most meaningful evaluations of the phenomenon under question result from putting together all these layers of truth, different experiences, and variety of voices.”[1]

Participants to this project exchanged ideas and insights through various forums. Among these was the Religion and Diversity Project, a collective research grant of $2.5 million awarded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) and directed by Lori G. Beaman, and the National Judicial Institute’s Criminal Law Seminar “Sentencing Challenges of So-Called Honour Crimes”, which was given by Pascale Fournier and Anna Korteweg in Vancouver (March 2011). Some participants have also contributed to the conference co-organized by Prof. Fournier and the Association for Canadian Studies to mark the 30th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This conference, entitled Checking Our Constitution@30: The Influence of the Canadian Constitution and the Charter of Rights on Legislation, Identities and Federalism, was held at the University of Ottawa on April 17-18, 2013. It allowed participants to further their discussions on the strategic approach laid out in the Canadian Criminal Law Review special issue. Finally, Prof. Fournier has coordinated a workshop at the May 2013 conference, Living on the Margins, Judging Fairly, Judging Responsively, co-organized by the National Judicial Institute and the Canadian Chapter of the International Association for Women Judges. Judges from across the country attended this workshop, which assessed the challenges brought to courts by the marginalization of women, and specifically by culturally motivated violence against women.

[1] Albie Sachs, The Strange Alchemy of Life and Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009) at 82.

Publications pertaining to this project:

Fournier, Pascale & McDougall, Pascal, “Le droit comparé et la violence faite aux femmes : voyages au coeur de la narration identitaire”, (2014) 87(2) Droit et société, forthcoming

Fournier, Pascale, “Honour Crimes and the Law—Public Policy in an Age of Globalization”, Introduction to the Special Issue: Guest Editor, (2012) 16(2) Canadian Criminal Law Review, 103-114

Fournier, Pascale, McDougall, Pascal & Dekker, Anna, “Dishonour, Provocation and Culture: Through the Beholder’s Eye?”, (2012) 16(2) Canadian Criminal Law Review, 161-193 
(Review: Isabel Grant, “Provoked Intimate Femicides : A Privatized Version of « Honour »?”, Equality Jotwell : The Journal of Things We Like (Lots), May 22, 2013)

Fournier, Pascale & Reyes, Nathan, “A Language of Hybridity: Honour and Otherness in Canadian and Sharia”, in Maurits Berger, ed., Applying Sharia in the West, (Leiden University Press: Leiden, 2013), 189-203 (partial reprint)

Fournier, Pascale, “So-called Honour Crimes and the Sentencing Regime in Canada”, National Judicial Institute, (NJI, Ottawa: 2011), 24 pp.

Fournier, Pascale, “Les crimes d’honneur au Canada et le régime de détermination de la peine”, Institut national de la magistrature, (INM: Ottawa, 2011), 26 pp.