Radio India managing director Maninder Gill said a number of incidents involving a Surrey businessman that took place during the spring and summer of 2010 had him fearing for his life.
“I am getting messages from Harjit Atwal that whenever he is going to see me, he will be attack on me,” Gill testified in B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster on Wednesday. “I’m concerned about my life.”
Gill said the incidents he described happened in the months leading up to a wedding at the Guru Nanak Sikh temple in Surrey, at which Atwal was shot in the leg.
Gill is charged with five firearms offences and one count of aggravated assault in connection with the shooting. His trial adjourned last July after about a week of evidence and resumed on Wednesday, when the Crown closed its case and Gill took the witness stand.
Gill said he has known Atwal since the early 1980s and regularly saw him in the community and at temple. He said the animosity between him and Atwal began in April 2010, following incidents involving a Radio India employee, Atwal and his associate Jaspal Atwal at a press event for an Indian politician who was visiting the Lower Mainland and at the Vaisakhi Parade in Surrey two days later.
Gill said he learned in May that things had been said by the Atwals about his employee in the newspaper and that his employee had been saying things about the Atwals on the radio. Gill said he suspended his employee for three days when he heard about that.
Harjit and Jaspal Atwal and another man later filed a defamation lawsuit against Gill and a number of Radio India employees.
In June 2010, Gill was at a Punjabi concert in New Westminster when he received messages from the Atwals and others stating that the Atwals wanted to attack him. He also heard from a local businesswoman that at an event on June 30 an angry-looking Harjit Atwal told her that Gill had not done the right thing by insulting Atwal’s family on the radio, and said he would not spare Gill if he ever saw him.
Gill reported the threats to police and two constables were assigned to his case. He said he spoke often with the officers over the next two months
He had been advised by police to curtail his attendance at events, but on Aug. 28, 2010, Gill attended a wedding at the Guru Nanak temple, where he had been asked to make a speech.
Following the event, Gill said he was accosted by Jaspal Atwal and his son, Vikram, outside the temple. Gill said Jaspal hit him with a sharp object, cutting Gill’s left hand. He said Vikram took a swing at him and Gill pushed him, causing Vikram to trip and fall.
Gill said he then noticed a gun sliding across the floor.
“When I saw the gun I just grabbed it right away,” Gill said.
Gill testified that he put the gun in his pocket and began walking toward his car with the intention of leaving. He said Vikram followed and yelled at him.
“He said, ‘Give my gun back you goddamn’ and he was threatening and swearing,” Gill said.
A number of other men arrived, along with Harjit Atwal. Gill said he felt afraid and outnumbered and there took out the gun and fired in the air.
“My life was in danger at that time and I wanted to scare them,” Gill said.
Everyone except Harjit Atwal left the place. Gill fired the gun again, this time hitting Harjit in the back of his upper left leg. Gill said Harjit yelled and ran away.
Gill’s daughter and niece forced him to leave and his wife picked them up in front of the temple. Gill said he threw the gun away at his daughter’s request before they left. He said they didn’t go straight home because he was afraid he and his family would be attacked there.
When asked by his lawyer what he was thinking before he fired the gun, Gill said, “I thought, ‘This is the last day of my life. They’re going to kill me.”
According to facts admitted at trial, following the shooting, Surrey RCMP received “credible information” that there may be retaliation against Gill and his immediate family by the Atwals. On September 1, 2010, the police warned Gill and his family, who accepted the assistance and protection of the RCMP, including the installation of a panic button and surveillance cameras at the Gill home.
Early on Sept. 20, Gill’s home was the target of a drive-by shooting. Police investigated and found eight shots had hit the home and recovered eight bullet casings. They determined that a .223 Remington semi-automatic or automatic rifle had been used and the gun was linked to a separate drive-by shooting from February 2010.
The same day, Radio India employee Gurpreet Singh received a threatening letter in Punjabi that stated, in part, that Gill, Singh and another man would be shot in broad daylight. The letter was signed, “Atwal and friends.”
The trial continues.