As Reported in Mississauga.com
16-year-old Aqsa Parvez was murdered by her father and brother.
By LOUIE ROSELLA
IN some ways, Aqsa Parvez became what many girls her age dream of — the most popular teen in school, famous around the globe and the talk of national and international media including broadcast heavyweights CNN and BBC.
But she paid dearly for her fame.
On Dec. 10, 2007, the feisty, witty and rebellious 16-year-old was strangled to death in her basement bedroom inside her family’s middle-class home on Longhorn Trail, near Hurontario St. and Bristol Rd. E.
“There’s not a day that goes by where I don’t think of that beautiful smile and her infectious laugh,” one of Aqsa's many cousins, Husna Zaidi, 23, said in an interview yesterday from Pakistan.
The Parvez family came to Canada from Pakistan in 2001 and, in recent years, Zaidi would pay annual visits to Mississauga.
“I stopped coming after that year (2007). I couldn’t bear to be in the middle of all that heartache. It has ripped the family in two.”
Aqsa’s father, Muhammad Parvez, 59, a former cab driver with Mississauga-based Blue & White Taxi, and her brother, Waqas Parvez, 29, were charged by Peel Regional Police with her murder.
Both pleaded guilty yesterday to second-degree murder, confirming a belief what the girl’s closest friends and classmates at Applewood Heights Secondary School held true long before she died – that Aqsa Parvez was victimized because of her desire to be more western, and less Muslim.
Nobody, though, believed she'd pay the ultimate price.
Her father and brother, meanwhile, are now paying for their role in her death with life prison sentences.
Aqsa's gruesome death continues to garner international attention and remains the subject of worldwide internet discussion involving a clash of Western and Middle Eastern cultures.
“She wanted to live her life the way she wanted to, not the way her parents wanted her to,” former classmate and close friend Krista Garbhet told The News. “She just wanted to be herself; honestly, she just wanted to show her beauty and not be pushed around by her parents telling her what she has to be like, what she has to do. Nobody would want to do that.”
Aqsa, known to her friends as "Axe," was the youngest of eight children.
Her long black hair and deep green eyes, which complemented her charming, captivating personality, were barely visible during her first year of high school.
Friend Tara Michener, 19, recalled how Aqsa would walk the halls in Grade 9, usually with her head down and eyes piercing the floor. Her head was covered by a hijab, the traditional shoulder-length head scarf worn by Muslim girls and women.
In Grade 10, Aqsa’s personality began to evolve. And it started in gym class.
“We were in the gym change room one day and we all saw her hair because she took the hijab off to adjust it,” Michener recalled. “It was long and beautiful, and everybody was like, ‘Oh, your hair is fantastic. Why don’t you show it off? The boys will be all over you.’ And she said, ‘I’m not allowed to, but I wish I could.’ Then, like less than a week later, she was taking the hijab off. I guess you could say she gave in to peer pressure.”
Suddenly, tight-fitting jeans, talking to boys, late nights with friends and listening to rap and hip-hop music became the norm for Aqsa — as did fights with her family.
Tension was running rampant on Longhorn Trail over the teen's changing ways. The strict rules of a devout Muslim home were not only being challenged, but openly defied by the vivacious, outgoing baby of the family.
“She was supposed to go straight home after school, but she started hanging out with us for a bit after school and wasn’t getting home until well after dinner. Her dad didn’t like that,” said Ebonie Mitchell, 18.
Aqsa began skipping school frequently with friends, and made no effort to hide it, at times shouting in the halls the time and class she was planning to skip, friends said.
Mitchell and other friends said she'd leave home wearing the traditional garment and loose clothing, but would often change into tighter clothes at school.
"She was really into fashion," Mitchell said.
Dressing in one manner at home and another at school is one way young Muslim girls in Canada are dealing with competing cultural demands between home life and social life, said Jasmin Zine, a sociology professor at Wilfrid Laurier University.
But Aqsa wasn’t anti-Muslim, her friends said. Ashley Garbutt, 19, said she wanted to experiment “being like any other Canadian teenager,” and that included going to movies and dating boys.
Aqsa would, on occasion, wear the hijab "because she felt like it" and show her friends some traditional Indian dances.
“She didn’t turn her back on her culture,” Garbutt said. “She just wanted to have fun the way we were having fun. She really did like her religion.”
Another classmate and close friend, Dominiquia Holmes-Thompson, said Aqsa "got threatened" several times as the relationship with members of her family became tumultuous.
Carla Gianetti said the girl's father imposed several restrictions on Aqsa, all in the name of religion. Aqsa couldn't take it anymore and threatened to move out, she said.
"He wouldn't let her go out. He wouldn't let her socialize and she rebelled. She wanted to go out with her friends, just be like a normal person," Gianetti said.
Aqsa feared her father in the weeks preceding her murder and had argued with him over her desire to shun the hijab.
Garbutt said the teen was so afraid, she moved out and was living with a friend. Other friends said she had even stayed in a youth shelter a few nights.
Wendy Horton, executive director of Youth Without Shelter in Etobicoke, where Aqsa is believed to have stayed at least once, said while she's shocked by the level of violence in this situation, she isn't surprised by its root cause.
Parents who want their children to remain faithful to old-world ways are often at odds with their children growing up in Western society.
"It creates a lot of family tension," Horton said. "And youth finally end up staying with their friends."
Aqsa had returned home the night prior to her death to pick up clothes, friends said.
While waiting for the bus the following day, on a chilly December morning, Aqsa's brother, Waqas, came to pick her up, claiming her father needed to speak with her. Grudgingly, she got into the car. She was never seen alive again.
"She said she was always scared of her dad...and, normally, she's not scared of nobody," said Garbutt.
Staff members at the school were aware of the "conflict" between Aqsa and members of her family and were working with them to resolve the issues and "bridge the gap," said Peel District School Board spokesperson Sylvia Link.
"They were trying to connect (Aqsa and her family) with support services in the community," she said, adding school staff had no idea of the extent of the conflict.
Meanwhile, the debate continues as to whether this was a tragic case of domestic violence or religious extremism.
Mississauga’s Muslim leaders continue to refute claims that Aqsa's death is linked to Islam.
Sheikh Alaa El-Sayyed, imam of the Islamic Society of North America in Mississauga, said it's not right to link the murder to religion.
"We cannot associate or link any way of life to an act of a crime. Any human being that kills should be called a criminal," he said yesterday. "Any religion is innocent of such."
Islam condemns violence and teaches adherents not to force their beliefs upon others, he added.
"The bottom line is, it's a domestic violence issue," El-Sayyed said. "We, as Muslims, are Canadians and we should be dealt with just like everyone else. We have rights, duties...pros and cons just like all other human beings."
Aqsa Parvez is gone, but communities across Ontario are ensuring she's not forgotten.
A granite bench in the bedroom community of Pelham, south of Welland, honours the 16-year-old, even though none of the 17,000 residents of this Niagara Peninsula town even knew her before she died.
Parvez's death struck a nerve with Pelham Fire Chief Scott McLeod and town councillor Sharon Cook. They wanted to do something in honour of the teen and raised the matter with Town Council. It was decided that a memorial, dedicated to Parvez, but one that speaks to all immigrants, would be appropriate.
Council agreed and put a memorial tree in Pelham Peace Park while a local business provided the bench. The memorial was dedicated late last year.
It bears the inscription: "Remembering new Canadians lost to the quest of integrating cultures — In Loving Memory of Aqsa Parvez — Remembered and Free."
At Applewood Heights Secondary School in Mississauga, students and staff planted a crimson maple in honour of Parvez's energetic life at the school.
Mississauga City Council said it's considering numerous requests to erect a memorial to Parvez, or perhaps dedicate a park in her name, somewhere in the city.
There's also a bid to have a memorial plaque and a tree planted at the University of Guelph Arboretum in honour of the slain teen.
Meanwhile, a new Muslim youth help line based in Mississauga was launched two months ago, prompted, in large part, by the Parvez tragedy.
Naseeha, which means "advice" in Arabic, is the first known service of its kind in Canada.
Alia Hogben, executive director of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, is happy Parvez is being remembered.
She added that the girl's death remains tragic for many reasons.
"It shows violence against women and girls in all cultures and it also shows the problems and difficulties that occur in recently arrived immigrant families."- LOUIE ROSELLA