The murder of a 23-year-old Indo-Canadian this week in the town of Abbotsford, a suburb of Vancouver, is the latest violent incident marking what has been described as the Townline Hill “conflict”, a result of an ongoing confrontation between rival Indo-Canadian gangs.
The killing of Satkar Singh Sidhu on Monday is the fifth homicide that is “connected to the conflict in Abbotsford” since 2014, according to a spokesperson for the city’s police department, Constable Ian MacDonald. He also attributed nearly 50 “major incidents” to the “ongoing conflict,” that involves youth of the area. The conflict was linked originally to the Townline Hill neighbourhood of the city, but appears to have spread across a larger area and even spilled over into Edmonton, in the neighbouring province of Alberta, where two young men, Navdeep Sidhu and Harman Mangat, were shot dead last month.
These aren’t exactly turf battles as many of those involved in the gangs “live on the same streets” but the violence is over controlling “drug lines and obviously profit,” Constable MacDonald explained. As much as 95% of the gang members are of South Asian origin, and mainly Indo-Canadian.
Police first became aware of the violence when “low level” fights erupted between youth that involved knives, bats and clubs. By 2014, those evolved into a more dangerous form as “they started to bring guns to the fights,” MacDonald said.
“We’ve seen escalation of violence. It’s unbelievably tragic,” Staff Sergeant Lindsey Houghton, spokesperson for the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit – British Columbia or CFSEU-BC, said.
The genesis of the conflict lay in teenagers getting into fights over “petty” matters such as someone looking at another’s girlfriend the wrong way or the perception of being verbally disrespected, he said. Over time, it grew into organised criminal activity involving drug trafficking.
The latest casualty, Satkar Sidhu, is believed to have been “targeted” and the crime is being investigated by the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team or IHIT.
Late last year, Abbotsford police chief Bob Rich sent a letter to parents of some young men identified as gang members, in which he noted, “If he stays involved in gangs, he is at serious risk of being killed. As a member of one of these gangs, your son’s actions are causing other people to die. In addition, if you have other younger sons in your house, experience has shown us that they are at risk of being pulled into gangs by their older brother.”
Constable MacDonald said the Abbotsford Police Department was taking “three different tacks” to tackling the conflict. The first is enforcement, along with the CFSEU–BC, which also includes deployment of plainclothes officers. Local authorities have also installed 13 surveillance cameras in the locality, a move that has been “overwhelmingly endorsed” by the community. Finally, is the outreach programme of connecting with the youth and their parents.
Indo-Canadian gang violence has been a feature of Vancouver and its suburbs since the 1990s and this phenomenon formed the basis for Indo-Canadian director Deepa Mehta’s 2015 film, Beeba Boys.