TORONTO—When her baby got a heart transplant at Sick Children’s Hospital, Bano Shahdady threw away her burqa.
At twenty years old, after years of religious training, she also decided to return to public high school. With help from her son’s doctors and a social worker, she arranged to rent an apartment to leave her parents and husband.
It was there, two weeks after she moved in, that police found her strangled to death, her son left alone with the body for 15 hours, murdered by a man hiding his identity behind a burka.
On Wednesday, the husband Abdul Malik Rustam was sentenced to life in prison for the murder with no chance of parole for 17 years.
“A woman has an absolute right to end any relationship,” Judge John McMahon of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice told the court. He said that Rustam planned the attack, disguised himself in a burqa to gain access to the apartment, and justified his actions to police. The judge also said that the victim’s father forgave Rustam and pleaded for mercy in court on his behalf, without once mentioning the loss of his daughter.
The facts, as the judge outlined them, pointed to an “honour killing,” a crime distinct from other murders because its motive is to cleanse perceived family dishonour caused by a wife’s or daughter’s behaviour. “Canada’s openness and generosity do not extend to barbaric cultural practices that tolerate… ‘honour killings,’” says the federal Discover Canada guide issued to new immigrants.
But the judge never said the two key words.
“Man gets life sentence for murdering wife,” read the Toronto Star’s headline, relegating the crime to a domestic abuse case.
The Toronto Sun went with, “Man who wore ‘burka’ sentenced in estranged wife’s killing.” Not a single other Canadian news outlet reported the story.
Bano Shahdady deserves better. Not only did she fight her attacker — by clawing at him and surviving his strangulation attempts for a full 30 minutes — but she also fought the Islamist social ideology that had kept her a vassal in her own home.
This is the story nobody else will tell.
Eleven days after Bano’s death in July 2011, a relative and a family friend, both of them men, spent two hours telling it to me. Both asked that their names not be used, saying that they could not officially speak for the family. Further information comes from an “agreed statement of facts” that Judge McMahon read aloud at the sentencing.
When she was 18 months old, Bano came to Toronto from Pakistan with her parents, the relative said. They settled in Scarborough, where her father joined the Islamist movement Tabligi Jamaat, meaning “Proselytizing Group.” He took a religious title, calling himself Mullah Abdul Ghafoor.
“She was very bright,” the relative said of Bano. “I remember her reading a thick Harry Potter book. She said, ‘Go to any page and read the first two sentences and I will tell you the rest.’ I thought she was bluffing. I went to page 20 and read the first two lines, and she told me the rest.”
When Bano was 13 or 14, her father pulled her out of her Canadian school and enrolled her in a Muslim religious school in Karachi, Pakistan. When she turned 17, he arranged for her to marry her first cousin, an illiterate tailor, who was 25. Almost right away, Bano got pregnant and quit school. She returned to Canada to have the baby at a Canadian hospital.
“When she came back she was completely indoctrinated and completely covered,” the relative said. “You could not see her face. She wasn’t allowed to talk.”