When it comes to Surrey gang life, family looms large

Click to play video: 'Kids, guns and gangs: a south asian problem' Kids, guns and gangs: a south asian problem
WATCH: Part two of our focus on kids, guns and gangs in Metro Vancouver focuses on an uncomfortable reality for the South Asian community – Jul 14, 2016

When sirens blare in the middle of the night, parents in the Surrey, B.C. neighbourhood of Newton lie awake and pray it doesn’t involve their child.

“An ambulance goes past and I can’t sleep because I keep thinking, ‘Oh my God. Is it my son that’s been killed?” said Gurmeet, a mother who lives in the neighbourhood.

“We, as parents, think they’ll be home soon and they don’t come…Then, they stop answering their cell phones. Then, when an ambulance goes past, we think something has happened,” she said, speaking in Punajbi to Global News. “I wouldn’t stop worrying until he got home.”

Gurmeet’s son Arjun is 16 years old. He began taking hard drugs at 14. He admitted he was recently offered to become a dealer himself — and was tempted to do it.

“It was someone from my school…he’s older than me probably by two years,” he said.

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“He came in a nice car and he’s like, ‘Hey, I remember seeing you in school. Do you want to work for me?'” Arjun said, recounting how he considered the idea of selling drugs. “All the nice stuff he had, I just wanted that stuff too. It makes it look so easy.”

Gurmeet said she and her husband often work 12-hour days to make sure they can provide Arjun with everything he needs. But, she and other mothers in the community talk about their collective worry over their children.

Until last week, however, she had never had a blunt conversation with her son about drugs and gang life.

“We are scared and we hide it from our relatives, but we shouldn’t,” Gurmeet said, explaining how parents tell their children they can get what they want in life if they work for it. “We don’t want them to look at others and think we are poor.”

More than one family’s struggle

The relationship between Gurmeet and Arjun is one that is all too common, according to RCMP Assistant Commissioner Bill Fordy.

“Relative to the violence that’s played out in Newton? I think it’s fair to say the majority are South Asian,” said Fordy, who was promoted to head of the Lower Mainland RCMP last month.

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It’s not uncommon for their parents to not have an awareness of what their kids are involved in. And it’s also not uncommon for some families to have an awareness,” he said. “But because they are concerned about being ashamed, or having their family name spoken of in a manner in how they would like to be described, they’re not always as co operative as they might choose to be. Or as they could be.”

It’s a message repeated by law enforcement officials past and present — many of whom have South Asian ancestry themselves.

“Absolutely they [have a head in sand approach],” says Kal Dosanjh, a Vancouver cop who ran for Surrey City Council in 2014. “In many cases, I can say that.”

Dosanjh said, in many instances, teenagers with few bonds at home go looking for them on the street.

“All [their parents] know is hard work,” he said. “They became successful as a result of their hard work. Unfortunately, in that process, there were ramifications and consequences — tragic ones at that.
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Kids don’t always see the decades of “blood, sweat and tears their parents had to go through” to get to the point their at now, Dosanjh said.

Someone to look up to

Instead of their parents, some teens are looking to bad influences to fill the void of a role model.

“When people talk about Bindy Johal, Ron or Jimmy Dosanjh, everyone knows who they are and what they were all about and unfortunately these kids want to be just like them,” said Kash Heed, British Columbia’s former solicitor general.

Johal and the Dosanjh brothers were part of a wave known as the “Punjabi Mafia” in the 1990s, responsible for a wave of shootings that were previously unknown to the Fraser Valley. All three were killed that decade, yet their memory still inspires some.

“I will have 13, 14-year-olds come up to me and say, ‘You know what? Bindy Johal is our idol and we wanna be like him,'” Kal Dosanjh added.

“Who’s to explain to these kids… what Bindy Johal accomplished at the end of the day? He dealt drugs. He devastated families. He devastated the community, at the end of the day he was shot in the back of the head and that’s his legacy. Is that the legacy you’re referring to?”

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– With files from Sonia Deol

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