Teen tried to leave strict family

16-year-old's love of dancing, fashion and photography brought her into conflict; father now faces murder charge

From Wednesday's Globe and Mail

Aqsa Parvez was largely estranged from her family and sleeping away from home in recent days. The 16-year-old's friends said she returned to her home in Mississauga on Monday only to collect her belongings.

Shortly afterward, she was taken to hospital, where she died early Tuesday morning – leaving friends grief-stricken and igniting a public debate on religious extremism in Canada.

Her father, 57-year-old taxi driver Muhammad Parvez, is charged with murder. Her brother, 26-year-old Waqas Parvez, is charged with obstructing police.

Ms. Parvez's friends described the Grade 11 student at Applewood Heights Secondary School as someone who was drawn to Western culture even as her family adhered to a devout form of Islam. Friends paint a picture of a hardworking and cheerful girl who loved dancing, fashion and photography – interests that often clashed with her strict home environment.

“Aqsa was always trying to get us to go shopping with her,” schoolmate Dominiquia Holmes-Thompson said. “We were supposed to go to the mall together today.”

Last week, Ms. Parvez temporarily moved in with a friend from school.

“She said she wasn't getting along well with her family and that things weren't right,” said Trudy Looby, the mother of one of Ms. Parvez's friends, Alisha. “When she was here, she was very happy.”

Ms. Looby said she told Ms. Parvez to inform her parents about where she was staying. “She notified me that the school was aware of where she was staying and that that was okay,” the mother said.

During her stay, Ms. Looby said, Ms. Parvez didn't wear the hijab, a head scarf that friends said was a hot topic within her family.

Krista Garbutt remembers walking down the street with Ms. Parvez earlier this year, when the two of them spotted Ms. Parvez's brother walking toward them. Panicking, the teenager quickly fumbled for her head scarf, trying to put it on. “There were times when we'd be walking down the street and she'd see her brother and she wouldn't be wearing her hijab and she'd have to put it on,” Ms. Garbutt said. “She said, ‘He'll kill me, he'll kill me.' I said, ‘He's not going to kill you,' but she said, ‘Yeah, he will.' And nobody believed it.”

On Monday morning, Peel Regional Police responded to a 911 call from a man who said he had just killed his daughter. When officers arrived at a single-family detached home on Longhorn Trail, they found Ms. Parvez suffering from life-threatening injuries. She was taken immediately to Credit Valley Hospital and later transferred in critical condition to the Hospital for Sick Children, where she died.

Peel police said the Crown is waiting to decide whether Mr. Parvez should be charged with first- or second-degree murder, pending a police investigation. Although police would not elaborate on the ongoing homicide investigation, the difference between laying a first- or second-degree murder charge often rests on proving that the killing was premeditated.

Ms. Garbutt said the teenager went home on Monday to collect her belongings, at which point her father “basically went ballistic.”

For weeks before, Ms. Parvez had been living something of a double life, friends said.

“She wanted peace with her family,” Alisha Looby said. “She wanted to make them happy but she wanted to be herself at the same time, and there's nothing wrong with that.”

A makeshift memorial is already in place at Applewood Heights, full of mementoes and messages left by grieving students.

“Aqsa was honestly the brightest girl around. She had the biggest smile and was the happiest person in school. She loved to dance and take pictures,” one student wrote.

Across Canada, the killing has taken on larger proportions. On call-in shows and websites, many have used the incident as part of a wider indictment of fundamentalist Islam. One Canadian conservative blogger suggested Canadians boycott taxicabs driven by Muslims.

In a statement Tuesday, the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations called on Canadians of all faiths to address issues of domestic abuse, and called for “the strongest possible prosecution” of those responsible for Ms. Parvez's killing.

Trudy Looby, who let Ms. Parvez stay at her home last week, said she now wishes the teen had not left.

“I was feeling that whatever it was she was dealing with at home was a bit too personal to involve me in,” Ms. Looby said. “I wish she would have stayed longer, that's all. It's a sad waste of life.”