The producer of a Punjabi radio show hosted by Tirth Sehmbi, the Edmonton RCMP constable charged with second-degree murder in the death of his wife, said yesterday the woman was not the victim of an honour killing, but rather, a “family dispute.”
Sukhdev Dhillon, operator of Edmonton’s Radio Punjab, where Const. Sehmbi recently hosted a weekly call-in show to help newcomers adjust to life in Canada, says the city’s Sikh community is “shocked” that someone of “such high stature” is alleged to have murdered his wife.
“Was this an honour killing? I don’t think that’s the case,” Mr. Dhillon said. “He seemed like a very nice gentleman.&nsbp;. . . It’s too early to judge.”
Const. Sehmbi, 36, was arrested early on Saturday after the body of his wife of nine years, Rajpinder Sehmbi, was found in the couple’s home, which they share with their two elementary school-aged boys in the upscale Jackson Heights neighbourhood. Neighbours reported hearing screaming followed by multiple gunshots in rapid succession coming from the house at about 4:20 a.m. on Saturday.
According to Mr. Dhillon, who yesterday spoke with some of Ms. Sehmbi’s family members in London, England, the 29-year-old mother had lived in an abusive relationship for many years.
“She was physically and mentally tortured by [Mr. Sehmbi’s] family,” he alleged. The marriage was arranged and shaky from the start, said a relative of Const. Sehmbi.
The couple had separated for a year and then got back together. They moved out of his parents’ house to see if that would help, but it only isolated them more, said the relative.
“Even his job didn’t help him,” she said. “We are all in shock. They both needed counselling. The frustration for so long kept building.”
Neighbour Kendra Hunt told the Edmonton Journal she didn’t talk to Const. Sehmbi often, but said she and her 10-year-old son saw him and his wife fighting in the past.
“He argued with his wife quite a bit. She would be throwing stuff and yelling at him so they kind of had a heated relationship,” Ms. Hunt said.
Surinder Singh Hoonjan, president of Gurdwara Millwoods, the Sikh temple where Const. Semhbi’s worshipped, echoed Mr. Dhillon’s sentiments that it was not an honour killing.
“We can’t believe this happened,” he said, adding the family has not attended recently because Const. Sembhi’s father was diagnosed with cancer.
Phyllis Chesler, an emerita professor of psychology and women’s studies at City University of New York, warns against labelling a murder an “honour killing” before the circumstances of the relationship are known. She says victims of honour killings are typically girls of an average age of 17 or married women in their mid-thirties.
“Women from these kinds of families are not ever allowed to expose the abuse, go to the secular authorities for help with the abuse or return to their families of origin because of the abuse,” Ms. Chesler said.
Police say they have not ruled out the possibility that Ms. Sehmbi was the victim of an honour killing.
“Our goal is to uncover the truth and certainly if the investigation takes us in that direction then we’ll consider it,” said Clif Purvis, a spokesman for the RCMP’s Alberta Serious Incident Response Team, which is leading the investigation.
An eight-year member of the RCMP, Const. Sehmbi, was most recently stationed at the Stony Plain detachment, about 40 kilometres east of Edmonton, as a canine handler in the traffic services division. He made a brief court appearance yesterday and has been suspended with pay pending an internal review of the option of suspension without pay.
“The RCMP is shocked and deeply saddened by this event,” said RCMP spokesman Sergeant Tim Taniguchi. “We again extend our sincere condolences to the victim’s family.”
ALLEGED HONOUR KILLINGS
Bahar Ebrahimi, 19, was attacked at her home in Dorval, Que., with a kitchen knife last month after she had stayed out all night. Her mother, Johra Kaleki, 38, is facing charges of attempted murder, aggravated assault and possession of a weapon. The attack is being investigated as a possible honour killing.
Aqsa Parvez, a 16-year-old girl, was found strangled in her family’s Mississauga, Ont., home in December 2007. Her 57-year-old father, Muhammad Parvez, and his 26-year-old son, Waqas, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the slaying and were sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 18 years. Friends said Aqsa had been at odds with her family over her refusal to wear the hijab, the Islamic headscarf worn by some Muslim women.
AMANDEEP KAUR DHILLON
Amandeep Kaur Dhillon, 22, was fatally stabbed in the neck in the basement of a Mississauga, Ont., grocery store on New Year’s Day, 2009. Her father-in-law, 47-year-old Kamikar Singh Dhillon, was also found at the scene with stab wounds later determined to have been self-inflicted. He was initially treated as a victim, but last month he confessed to second-degree murder. The court heard Dhillon suspected his daughter-in-law of having an affair, and was convinced she had plans to abscond with her lover.
Police in Kingston, Ont., suspect honour killing as a motive in the drowning deaths of three teenaged girls and an adult relative last year. Zainab Shafia, 19, and her sisters Sahar, 17 and Geeti, 13, and the relative were found inside a car submerged in the Rideau Canal last year. The girls’ mother, father and brother were charged with firstdegree murder.
Amandeep Atwal, 17, died of multiple stab wounds in 2003 at the hands of her father, Rajinder Singh Atwal, who was convicted of second-degree murder in the case. The court heard that Mr. Atwal disapproved of the 17-year-old’s love affair with a classmate, who was a year older. Friends, his family and some of their teachers were reportedly turned into co-conspirators to keep the relationship secret from Ms. Atwal’s parents, as she was forbidden to date.
Khatera Sadiqi, 20, and her fiance, Feroz Mangal, 23, were gunned down in the early hours of Sept. 19, 2006, in a car parked outside an Ottawa shopping plaza. Her 23-year-old brother, Hasibullah Sadiqi, was found guilty of two counts of firstdegree murder, with the judge concluding a “twisted sense of values” led him to murder the pair. The Crown argued it was an honour killing sparked by anger over the couple’s engagement.
Shemina Hirji, a 40-year-old school principal, died in her Burnaby, B.C., townhouse in the summer of 2007, less than a week after she married 34-year-old Paul Cheema. Mr. Cheema, who was widely suspected in her murder, was found dead of an apparent suicide about a week later. Ms. Hirji was of the Muslim faith while Mr. Cheema was Sikh, and the pair had reportedly been quarrelling over wedding bills.
JASWINDER KAUER SIDHU
Jaswinder Kauer Sidhu, 25, was found with her throat slit in June 2000 after moving to India to live with her new husband, a poor rickshaw driver of whom her family disapproved. Ms. Sidhu had reportedly told her friends in British Columbia that she feared her family because she had married Mr. Singh despite their objections. Police in Punjab charged nine people with conspiracy to kill Ms. Sidhu; among those charged were her mother, Malkiat Kaur, and her uncle, Surit Singh Badesha, both of Maple Ridge, B.C. Seven others who were charged in India were sentenced to life in prison.