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Posted in: Honor Killings

Published on Jul 12, 2010 by Kenyon Wallace

Written for National Post

Use of 'honour killing' disputed


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 on Monday 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.… 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 on Monday 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 couple had also reportedly separated recently.

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 Ms. Sehmbi was not the victim of an honour killing.

"Everybody is in shock. 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.

She says the latter group is usually killed by their husbands and suffer long-term abuse.

"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. "Their role is to stay and take it. If they say they're not going to, if they threaten to leave, this is considered a capital crime."

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 Solicitor General and Public Safety 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."


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