What’s in a name

There has been some recent concern over the fact that there may be an increase in the number of “honour killings” taking place within Canada. Honour killings are murders that are usually committed for the motive of restoring honour in a family name after a family member’s conduct has been called into question. These types of killings are associated with some Eastern cultures and are often directed towards women.

While some blame the increased immigration from the East, I think the main reason people believe that honour killings are on the rise in Canada is because there may be a tendency to categorize murders committed by and against people from Eastern cultures within Canada as honour killings. This point can be illustrated by the recent cases of two women of Middle Eastern descent who, while living in Canada, were murdered by their husbands. In both cases the two women sought a separation from their husbands: one bought her own apartment in Toronto, the other, from Vancouver, moved in with an aunt. Each of these women were murdered by their husbands after moving out, or as some say, were killed in order to regain the honour of the family name that was lost when their wives left.

Both cases are being labeled as honour killings in that both husbands are thought to have killed their wives because of the dishonour they displayed in trying to leave them. However, my question is: “what makes these murders any different from other spousal murders or abuse committed in Canada?”

Why are similar murders to those of honour killings but committed by people who are not of Eastern descent not categorized as such? I think it is misleading to characterize similar murders differently based on ethnicity. I am not disputing the fact that there are indeed honour killings within Canada, but I think that the recent observation, that honour killings are increasing within Canada are skewed by the tendency to label all domestic murders by people of Eastern descent as such.

Honour killings are defined by their unique motive, of restoring family honour and not by religious or ethnic characteristics, thus, the label of an honour killing should be applied with careful consideration, not just assumed to be true based on other factors.

Jill Patterson is a volunteer contributor to the Manitoban.