Petti Fong, Globe and Mail (Toronto), June 2
VANCOUVER — With no suspects and no witnesses in an alleged racial assault against an Indo-Canadian teenager who said he had his turban and hair hacked off by five attackers, Richmond RCMP say one possibility they’re investigating is whether the boy cut his own hair.
Richmond RCMP Corporal Peter Thiessen said investigators have heard from members in the Sikh community that the teenager may have lied about the assault in order to defy his parents’ expectations that his hair should remain uncut as a symbol of his faith.
“They feel the potential is there that this may be fabricated on the part of the young man,” said Cpl. Thiessen yesterday “It hasn’t been completely ruled out.”
But Cpl. Thiessen said the likelihood is greater that the boy was attacked, as he told police, by five Caucasian men in their early 20s in a field at Grauer Elementary School.
The teenager said one of the attackers called out a racial slur Thursday afternoon as he was walking home. When the boy then tried to run away, the five older men punched him. One of the attackers held a utility blade to his throat, then tore off his turban and cut off the teenager’s hair, police were told, before the youth managed to escape and go home.
The possibility that the victim lied to the police about the incident has been raised with the family, Cpl. Thiessen said, but both the teenager and his family members deny that is the case.
The boy’s cut hair has been recovered, but police have not said where it was found.
Although the teenager wore a turban and had not cut his hair in his 17 years, he was not a baptized Sikh, said one immediate family member who asked not to be identified.
The mother of the victim released a statement saying it was a difficult time for the family.
“As Indo-Canadians we understand that the community must band together at a time like this, however, we ask all of you not to act hastily or in a rash manner,” the mother wrote in a note, which included a plea for witnesses to step forward.
Radio Punjab news director and host Harinder Thind said hundreds of callers yesterday morning phoned in to voice their opinion about the attack, with only a handful advocating retaliation.
Some callers said a devout Sikh would have been carrying a dagger to defend against an attack, but the victim was not carrying any ceremonial weapons.
“There was a lot of anger and frustration that the police were not doing enough, but there was a consensus that this is not a country where people should use weapons to defend themselves,” Mr. Thind said. “If five Indo-Canadians beat up a white man and took off his cross or whatever, things would be different, some callers said.”
Some parents have put pressure on their children, especially young males, to adhere to the traditions of the devout in keeping their hair uncut and wearing turbans, said Balwant Sanghera, an Indo-Canadian youth worker.
“It would be really tragic if it is the case that the boy is responsible,” said Mr. Sanghera, a spokesman with the Sikh Societies of the Lower Mainland. “There was a previous case where that was the circumstance and the whole community felt embarrassed by the situation.”
Mr. Sanghera said community groups are making efforts to bridge generational gaps between more tradition-bound parents and their increasingly secular children.