Abbotsford’s South Asian community packed Matsqui Centennial Auditorium on Wednesday night for a forum addressing violence and crime in the western part of the city.
The crowd was so large – estimated at more than 500 – that about 50 chairs had to be set up on the stage to accommodate the overflow, and many people were turned away at the door.
The forum, conducted mainly in Punjabi, was held in response to what police have called “escalating tensions” among young South Asian men in west Abbotsford.
Police first reported last July that two groups of men were involved in a dispute they called the “Townline Hill conflict,” which has involved mischief, assault, vandalism and arson.
The area also experienced the fatal shooting last October of 18-year-old Harwin Baringh, a stabbing and a shooting in February, and a drive-by shooting in early March in which no one was injured.
Also in March, police issued a public warning about three individuals – Sandeep Sidhu, Jimi Sandhu and Gavin Grewal – they said are involved in an ongoing conflict and a “criminal lifestyle that includes violence, drugs and weapons.”
Police warned that the safety could be in danger of anyone associating with the three.
Wednesday’s forum addressed the history of gangs in the Fraser Valley and the role that parents can take to steer their kids away from such a lifestyle.
Among the presenters was Abbotsford Police Const. Charn Kingra, who said kids are drawn to gangs for reasons that include identity/status, protection, a glorified lifestyle and financial gain.
He said factors that put young people at risk of gang involvement include family violence, absentee parents and denial.
The forum was held in partnership with the Abbotsford school district. Superintendent Kevin Godden urged parents to connect with their schools when they are having difficulties with their children.
“Kids have a greater chance of being successful when their families work with the schools,” he said.
Police Chief Bob Rich said the community needs to work together in tackling gang violence and crime.
“We (police) are just hanging on, because around the corner … more violence will come. We do not want that. What we are watching in Surrey and Delta right now can happen here,” he said in reference to numerous recent shootings and murders in those cities.
Gary Sanghera, 21, and Arun Gill, 20, both attended the forum and said they encourage young men in the South Asian community to turn away from the lures of gang involvement.
The two are studying criminal justice at the University of the Fraser Valley and plan to become police officers.
They said they are discouraged to see men their age making poor decisions that could negatively impact their future.
“They’re going down the wrong path … I want to be an ambassador for the area,” Gill said.
Sanghera said he, too, wants to be a role model, but he had to make a conscious decision to “get on the right path” and turn away from negative influences. He urges others to do the same.