THE TOWNLINE HILL CONFLICT: Raising questions about racial stereotyping

Satwinder Bains from the Centre for Indo-Canadian Studies addresses the concerns

Satwinder Bains is the director of the Centre for Indo-Canadian Studies at University of the Fraser Valley.

Satwinder Bains is the director of the Centre for Indo-Canadian Studies at University of the Fraser Valley.

This is one of three articles published in Wednesday’s Abbotsford News on this issue. See also: Guns, gangs, grudges and Working to stop gang violence before it begins

The Townline Hill area is a neighbourhood that is predominantly South Asian, as are the combatants. The violence, the bullets and the bloodshed have brought public attention upon the Indo-Canadian community, raising questions about racial stereotyping and culturally inclusive responses to the situation.

by Laura Rodgers, Abbotsford News

The escalating violence amid the Townline Hill neighbourhood has left residents reeling, police stonewalled, and the city worried about what might come next.

For the area’s populous South Asian community, the challenges are numerous: many fear both for their safety and for the negative stereotyping the rest of the city may rush to.

Satwinder Bains, the director of the Centre for Indo-Canadian Studies at the University of the Fraser Valley, has a unique perspective on the situation and its effect on all South Asian Abbotsfordians. She’s not a resident of the Townline area herself, but her decades of experience in academia and community development have made her an expert in cross-cultural issues, especially those relating to Punjabi and South Asian communities.

She stresses that the Townline conflict is being caused by a small number of youth and young adults, but worries about how far its ripples have spread outward. While relatively few are directly involved in the clashes, she worries that their cultural background will cause others in Abbotsford to make unfair assumptions about the rest of the city’s large and diverse South Asian population

“You can put people in a box,” she said. “You can say these are Indo-Canadians, they’re immigrant families, they’ve come in a certain period of time, they live in a specific region. I wonder if that’s the connotation, even without intentionally doing that.”

The South Asian community, especially those who live in west Abbotsford, are also the people bearing the brunt of this conflict’s negative consequences. Any feelings of cultural or linguistic divide between the South Asian community and others in Abbotsford can both exacerbate these consequences and make police investigation more difficult. She worries that it can be too easy for people to use culture as an explanation for negative behaviour, when many other interconnected factors are likely at play as well.

When groups like the UN Gang and Red Scorpions were the dominant criminal organizations in the city, she notes, culture wasn’t used to explain the complex reasons why people joined these gangs and committed violent crimes. “We’re putting a high standard on those families,” she said, questioning whether the same standards were being applied to the parents of the notorious Bacon brothers.

“Why weren’t they complying?”

The people directly involved in the Townline Hill conflict, she notes, aren’t typical gang recruits: they’re often affluent and surrounded by a strong cultural network, with plenty of friends and family ties.

“These kids don’t fit the norm,” she said. “They have good structure, they belong to community networks, they have wealth.”

She would like to see police and community groups look deeper into what attracts these people into a life of crime.

The explanation in this case here isn’t as simple as poor kids seeking a life of luxury, or isolated loners seeking a gang’s tight social bonds.

She’d also like to see more ongoing dialogue between law enforcement and the community. There have been starts, like the two public forums held this year, but she’d like to see this grow into more communication. Throughout the conflict, police investigations have been stalled by an apparent lack of information from neighbours, family and friends of those involved. Bains sees this as a situation that could be alleviated — but only if the conversation runs both ways.

“It’s the first time, [police] said, that the parents are also non-cooperative,” she said. “How could you fault the police for wanting to help?…Young people are getting into trouble, 15-year-olds are in trouble. You can understand the anxiety levels in that.”

Police investigations in this dispute have been hampered by a lack of information from parents, neighbours and friends about the people involved in the conflict. Bains notes many reasons people don’t get involved aren’t directly tied to culture.

There’s the “bystander effect,” the common situation where someone witnessing a crime is less likely to report it if they think other witnesses already have. There is a common tendency for parents to think the best of their children, and to shield them from negative consequences. And there’s fear, common when organized crime is involved, that someone reporting an incident could be somehow found out and targeted for revenge.

“People say ‘Somebody else will call’ or ‘It’s not my [conflict]; it’s not me,” Bains said. “[They] impose this idea that South Asian parents are this homogenous group. But there are anomalies everywhere. We’re a million strong in Canada. You’re going to have one of everything here.”

As like nearly all other cultures in existence, there are occasionally long-running feuds and disputes within Punjabi communities — and they can play out in culturally idiosyncratic ways. Bains urges the police tasked with getting to the bottom of this conflict to make sure they’re taking culture into account.

She continued, “The services being offered to these families — are they appropriate; are they culturally responsive; do they know what they’re doing, are they getting the help they need? I don’t think so.”

As with any complex problem, the situation in Townline Hill won’t be solved overnight. But with communication, collaboration and cultural understanding, Bains is confident there is progress to be made.

“If we keep saying, ‘It’s our problem,’ the police are going to keep saying, ‘Well, you didn’t fix it.’

“We’re not going to hide. This is an issue we’re all facing. There is work we need to do. If we bury our heads in the sand, we’re no better than anyone else. But at the same time, this is a community issue.”

SEE ALSO:

Guns, gangs, grudges

Working to stop gang violence before it begins

 

 

Just Posted

Harrison Hot Springs country singer Todd Richard poses for a photo with Mission firefighters. (Photo/Sarah Plawutski)
VIDEO: Harrison country artist Todd Richard plans for a busy, rockin’ summer

Richard and his band look to live shows as restrictions start to lift

The theme for this year’s Fraser Valley Regional Library Summer Reading Club is “Crack the Case” and Katie Burns, community librarian at the Chilliwack Library, is encouraging people of all ages to sign up. She is seen here at the Chilliwack Library on Friday, June 18, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Crack the case, read, win prizes with FVRL Summer Reading Club

‘Immerse yourself in other worlds and have a bit of fun while you do it,’ says Chilliwack librarian

A police pursuit involving Abbotsford Police ended in Langley Saturday night, June 20. (Black Press Media file)
Abbotsford Police pursuit ends in Langley with guns drawn

One person arrested, witnesses say an officer may have been hurt in collision with suspect vehicle

Cpl. Scott MacLeod and Police Service Dog Jago. Jago was killed in the line of duty on Thursday, June 17. (RCMP)
Abbotsford police, RCMP grieve 4-year-old service dog killed in line of duty

Jago killed by armed suspect during ‘high-risk’ incident in Alberta

Kalyn Head, seen here on June 4, 2021, will be running 100 kilometres for her “birthday marathon” fundraiser on July 23. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Woman’s 100-km birthday marathon from Chilliwack to Abbotsford will benefit Special Olympics B.C.

Kalyn Head hopes run raises awareness, advocates for inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

FILE – Most lanes remain closed at the Peace Arch border crossing into the U.S. from Canada, where the shared border has been closed for nonessential travel in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Blaine, Wash. The restrictions at the border took effect March 21, while allowing trade and other travel deemed essential to continue. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Feds to issue update on border measures for fully vaccinated Canadians, permanent residents

Border with U.S. to remain closed to most until at least July 21

A portion of the George Road wildfire burns near Lytton, B.C. in this Friday, June 18, 2021 handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, BC Wildfire Service *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Blaze near Lytton spread across steep terrain, says BC Wildfire Service

Fire began Wednesday and is suspected to be human-caused, but remains under investigation

(Black Press Media files)
Burnaby RCMP look for witnesses in hit-and-run that left motorcyclist dead

Investigators believe that the suspect vehicle rear-ended the motorcycle before fleeing the scene

Blair Lebsack, owner of RGE RD restaurant, poses for a portrait in the dining room, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. Canadian restaurants are having to find ways to deal with the rising cost of food. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Canadian restaurateurs grapple with rising food costs, menu prices expected to rise

Restaurants are a low margin industry, so there’s not a lot of room to work in additional costs

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
Fort St. John man arrested after allegedly inviting sexual touching from children

Two children reported the incident to a trusted adult right away

(file)
Pedestrian hit by police vehicle in Langley

Injuries described as serious, requiring surgery

Barbara Violo, pharmacist and owner of The Junction Chemist Pharmacy, draws up a dose behind vials of both Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on the counter, in Toronto, Friday, June 18, 2021. An independent vaccine tracker website founded by a University of Saskatchewan student says just over 20 per cent of eligible Canadians — those 12 years old and above — are now fully vaccinated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
At least 20% of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated, 75% with one dose: data

Earlier projections for reopening at this milestone didn’t include Delta variant

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Most Read