Sikh News Let's Skip The Hyphen
Let's Skip the Hyphen
A Criminal Is a Criminal: VIOLENCE : The appalling death toll in the Lower Mainland among young Indo-Canadian men is not a matter of culture or history
Jagdeesh MannSpecial to the Sun - EDITORIAL
Saturday, June 10, 2006

'More than 100 dead. It's a meaningless stat that won't even touch the morning newsprint if it's from Iraq, Rwanda or Myanmar.
But it's not about some Third World war zone -- the killing fields are here in neighbourhoods like Newton, Richmond, South Burnaby and Port Moody.

In less than two decades, more than 100 young men have been gunned down in the streets, in clubs, in front of their homes and in busy public areas. Their trade: Drugs. Their age: mostly 20s and early 30s. Their hyphenated label: Indo-Canadian.
For nearly a century, British Columbia's predominantly Punjabi-dominated South Asian community has flown under the radar, a quiet minority identifiable by the turbans worn by the men and the flowing salwar-kameezes of the women.
The community prospered through an immigrant work ethic and a united family approach to business.
But a shift occurred within a small segment 10 to 15 years ago with the illicit appeal of drug money. Some say this shadow first arose from political factions trying to raise money for an independent homeland back in India. Others point at a deeper dislocation of a new lost generation enchanted by dreams of quick money.

In a single decade, the adjective "Indo-Canadian" has become glued to a new family of nouns such as "gangs," "shootings" and "violence." As a result, a new generation of young people is growing up to discover the meaning of terms like "racial profiling" and "under suspicion."
So, enter a recent federal report called "Group of 10: Integrated Community Response to South Asian Youth Violence," written by a group of Indo-Canadian counsellors and social workers.

The report claims to have found the root of the problem. It blames the killings on a South Asian culture that teaches violence as "an acceptable and culturally sanctioned means of resolving disputes."

The report further states that this belief comes from "observing role models at home and in the community engage in physical violence," and from a "misunderstanding of the role of violence in the history and beliefs of Sikhism."

A number of peripheral reasons are also given: Experience of racism and marginalization, sensationalistic media coverage of the South Asian community, and family roles in which boys get to run free while girls are home-bound.

For all the good intentions of the group, these reasons fall short of adequately explaining the violence.
First, the vast majority of the dead are not immigrants who grew up in India, but rather second- and third-generation Indo-Canadians who grew up in this country and in our public school system. They have more knowledge of John A. Macdonald, the exploitation of Chinese railway labour, and the 1972 Canada-Russia hockey series than they do of Sikh history, and its ostensibly violent roots.
Arguably, second-generation kids who grew up in a lawful and peaceful place like Vancouver should be far less prone to violence than people who grew up in poverty and the unstable social setting of India.
Secondly, the report suggests that these young men felt alienated growing up in a racist society -- which is a reasonable conclusion. Regardless of its multicultural jargon, Canada was no haven of tolerance in the 1970s and 1980s.

Still, this does not explain why the same world of violence is absent from other large Indo-Canadian communities in Ontario and Alberta.
After all, Toronto has a larger Punjabi community than Vancouver and it has not experienced all these killings, and the second- and third-generation kids who grew up in Ontario come from similar working-class conditions where parents held two jobs and zealously followed the same faith.

The report also fails to address the advantages and opportunities many of deceased young men had in their lives.

In 2005, 74 people were killed in Toronto, mostly in poor neighbourhoods with a large population of Jamaican immigrants. In Vancouver, in the same year there were 67 homicides -- many Indo-Canadian related.

Most of the men gunned down came from middle- to upper-class families, not poor inner cities projects.
They came from stable two-parent households, where the family owned its own suburban dwelling. Many of the families extended into networks of uncles, aunts and grandparents.
These parents weren't living on social assistance and they certainly weren't users who exposed their children to drugs. These kids didn't grow up on East Hastings, or in areas with vast amounts of street trade and pimps, with crack pipes littering playgrounds.
Unlike gang recruits in South Central Los Angeles or Chicago's South Side, many of the dead young men were high-school graduates, some even college and university alumni holding down day jobs for the family business or working as elementary and high-school teachers.

The fact is that most of the dead young men had all the support to walk the straight path and succeed in life, and this made little difference.
To blame parents, culture and, most of all the Sikh religion, is misleading and wrong. These young men were not any more agents of the Sikh faith than Hell's Angels are of Christianity and its violent history.

In fact, these thugs and bullies had more values in common with weekend hockey dads who attack referees, and television personalities like Don Cherry who cheer on a good old-fashioned fight.

These were young men who sought the fame and rush of power that comes from holding a gun to the world's head -- not too different from their counterparts in cities like Los Angeles, New York and Hong Kong, among others.

Most were probably over their heads when they were lured by established criminals and they were probably too short-sighted in thinking they could walk away from a few payoffs of muling marijuana and cocaine.

As this gang culture becomes better organized, the deaths and random violence will decrease and all this will become a non-story. It is moving in that direction now.

Those who will seek out this world will find their way to the other side and Indo-Canadian gangs will earn their patch and melt away quietly into the criminal underworld with all the other groups: White, Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese and Mexican.

But for now there is no organization and so today we have the "crisis" of the Indo-Canadian male and federal reports fingering parents and culture for being too lax with their sons.
These men made a choice to pursue a criminal lifestyle. It was their decision.

There is only one necessary response -- exercise the rule of law. They are like any other criminals, regardless of their hyphenated persuasion: Chinese, Indo or white.

In a pluralistic society it is undemocratic to treat criminals any differently.

Jagdeesh Mann is the managing editor of The Asian Pacific Post.

© The Vancouver Sun 2006

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