Posted on September 22, 2010

Indo-Canadian Radio Host’s Life Threatened

Robert Matas, Globe and Mail (Toronto), September 21, 2010

Tensions within Metro Vancouver’s bustling Indo-Canadian community are escalating, with a talk-show host at a Punjabi-language radio station receiving a death threat hours after a drive-by shooting at the home of the station manager.

Gurpreet Singh, who opens the phone lines to listeners of Radio India six mornings a week, received the threat Monday in the mail. In the two-page letter, written in Punjabi, the writers threaten to shoot Mr. Singh in broad daylight.

“We won’t rest now . . . we are waiting for an opportunity,” the letter writers say.

Mr. Singh is accused in the letter of being “a traitor” to Sikhs. “We treat you as an enemy,” the letter writers say. “We pray to the almighty when we get a chance and we confront each other.”

The letter writers also threaten to kill station manager Maninder Gill. Around 10 shots were fired at Mr. Gill’s home shortly after midnight Monday. No one was injured.

Ujjal Dosanjh, who was viciously attacked in the 1980s by members of the Indo-Canadian community critical of his views, urged the community to remain calm. “There already has been too much violence in the [Indo-Canadian] community over the years, and now this,” he said in an interview.

Mr. Dosanjh considered the threats on Mr. Gill and Mr. Singh to be threats against freedom of expression, similar to those against him more than 25 years ago. “It’s the idea that journalists in the 21st century in Canada are being threatened,” he said. “That is absolutely unacceptable.”

“I urge everyone to just calm down, let police do the work, let the courts pronounce on whatever happens before the court. Ultimately, violence does not do any good to anyone,” Mr. Dosanjh said.

Acrimony in the community flared up following a controversial radio broadcast in May. Three community members–Jaspal Atwal, Harkirat Kular and Harjit Atwal–subsequently filed a defamation case against Radio India, the radio’s manager Mr. Gill and several journalists as a result of the program. A few weeks after the lawsuit began, Harjit Atwal was shot in the leg following an argument at a wedding. Mr. Gill was charged with aggravated assault and discharging a weapon.

Mr. Singh, 40, has worked as a journalist for 15 years, writing for mainstream English-language newspapers in India before coming to Canada in 2001. He currently freelances for Vancouver’s Georgia Straight and Hindustan Times, a national paper in India, in addition to hosting Radio India programs.

Mr. Singh said he was not involved in the programming that led to the defamation lawsuit. His listeners on many occasions have been angry with positions he has taken in his radio editorials, but they call and let him know, he said. “Never, ever have I received a threat letter that uses these kinds of words. It’s the first time,” he said.

He felt he could not take the threat lightly, especially after the drive-by shooting at Mr. Gill’s house, but he did not intend to change his show. “Nothing can stop me from writing or speaking my mind,” Mr. Singh said.

Constable Peter Neily of the Surrey RCMP said police are interviewing witnesses, reviewing the evidence and attempting to identify a suspect. A safety plan has been drawn up for Mr. Singh.

It was premature to say whether the threat was related to the drive-by shooting, Constable Neily said.