A Winnipeg Sikh youth organization says it is concerned about the possibility of gang activity in the city after the shooting death of a man who Indian police say was a notorious criminal there.
Sukhdool Singh Gill, 39, was found dead by police in a duplex on Hazelton Drive in northwest Winnipeg on the morning of September 20.
His death came just two days after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said there are credible allegations linking India to the death of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a pro-Khalistan activist, in Surrey, British Columbia, in June.
“There’s obviously a lot of commotion and a lot of confusion,” said Rajbir Singh, who heads Misl Winnipeg, a Sikh youth organization.
“Indo-Canadian gangs are not something new. They’ve been around for quite some time on the west coast, in Ontario. However, this is the first time we’ve seen something like this in Winnipeg.”
A person who lives near the home where Gill was killed told CBC he heard 11 gunshots just before officers discovered Gill’s body.
The area is home to a large Punjabi population, who have settled there to maintain community connections and be close to a gurdwara, a Sikh place of worship, Singh said.
Gill, who went by the name Sukha Duneke, was allegedly part of the Bambiha gang in India, according to Indian police documents. He was accused of extortion and getting money for gang members to buy weapons, and his name was linked to murders in India.
A conflict management expert in India said Gill was involved in a long-running dispute with rival gangs.
He allegedly left India in 2017 after obtaining a passport illegally with the help of the police.
Gulneet Singh Khurana, a former senior police superintendent in Moga, a district in the Indian state of Punjab, told CBC that the passport case was filed in 2022 after police received complaints about extortion calls and learned that Gill was in Canada.
“When we investigated the matter, we learned that he was in Canada,” Khurana said in an interview translated from Hindi. “When we verified the matter, we learned that he had concealed facts and gone abroad.”
Singh said no one here really knew about Gill, or the fact that he was in Winnipeg, until his death.
“He might have been known as a person by a very specific group, people who keep up with gang violence in India and abroad,” Singh said. “However, I cannot say that he was a prominent figure in the community.”
Rival gangs claim responsibility
Rival gangs in India have claimed responsibility for Gill’s death, including the Bishnoi gang, which claimed credit in a social media post, according to Indian media reports.
However, an Indian judicial official is skeptical.
Shweta Shrimali is superintendent of Sabarmati Central Jail in the Indian state of Gujarat, where gang leader Lawrence Bishnoi is detained.
Bishnoi has no access to social media or contact with anyone who might have made the post for him, according to Shrimali.
“He’s been in our jail the whole time and has no connection to this,” Shrimali told CBC in an interview translated from Hindi.
The week he was murdered, Gill also appeared on a published wanted list via social media platform (formerly Twitter) of India’s National Investigation Agency, a specialized anti-terrorism law enforcement agency.
The general counsel of a U.S.-based group that advocates for an independent Sikh state in India called Khalistan was named on that same list, but he says he didn’t know Gill until he saw that list.
“I have no information about his past,” said Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, general counsel of Sikhs for Justice, a group banned in India and accused of supporting violent extremism.
“I have no information whether he worked on any Khalistan campaign or whether he was involved in violent activities,” Pannun told CBC via Zoom.
He warned against jumping to conclusions until the investigation into Gill’s death is complete.
Winnipeg police said investigators are looking into gang activity but have not confirmed it was a factor in the case.
‘Super fluid’ gangs in Canada: police officer
A BC police officer who previously worked with an anti-gang unit there says he has heard about the Bambiha gang through news sources in India, but it’s difficult to say how much of a presence they have in Canada.
“The gang arena is pretty transient in nature – they go where they make a profit,” said Surrey Police Service Sgt. Jag Khosa, who worked with British Columbia’s Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit to curb gang violence.
“We’ve seen gangsters from British Columbia move to Alberta or Toronto or vice versa, even out of the country. So what group they represent, even that is very fluid,” he said. “We’ve seen people change sides very quickly.”
Singh, the Sikh youth leader in Winnipeg, said members of the Punjabi community view Gill’s killing as “an exceptional event.”
The Bambiha gang, with which Gill has been linked, has been in the news quite a bit in India, Singh said, pointing to the 2022 fatal shooting of Punjabi-language rapper and music producer Sidhu Moose Wala in India, which police say was the result of a “gang rivalry.”
“We’ve always heard about this type of gang violence. But I personally and many of the community members here didn’t know they had a presence here,” Singh said.
“Just thinking that this kind of scenario could happen here, it’s kind of a wake-up call that this kind of thing can really exist here.”
Singh said his group is hopeful there will be no more violence, but his organization could play a role if there is.
“If these types of Punjabi gangs increase here, it is up to Punjabi community institutions like us to step forward,” Singh said.
“Sure, there are already people stuck in that path, but there are definitely people you can keep away from them,” he said.
“There are people you can bring back to the gurdwaras. There are children you can educate for a better future.”