The Rise of Indian Organized Crime in Canada
Why does an Indian leave India? The answer to this question is not as interesting as the person answering. Indians emigrate for a multitude of reasons: job opportunities, university admissions, fateful visits to loved ones that end in permanent residences. They leave to build a future for their families, because they know that the future they want, India can’t provide.
But then there are others, those who leave for not-so-fruitful reasons. They leave from persecution and discrimination. They leave from unpaid debts and prices on their heads. They run away from their dark pasts, from crimes they can’t come to terms with, from people they can’t face, from lives that can’t exist. They leave for the future of their families because they know that in India, a future doesn’t even exist.
But every Indian in a new land is faced with the situation of grasping one single reality – that their identity is no longer dominant in the environment, that they are out-of-place in this new land and their identity will eventually erode. It’s like taking water and pouring it in a sauna. Eventually it’ll become steam. And just like the hundreds of reasons for emigrating from India, there are as many ways to cope with the culture shock of the new land. Some Indians volunteer at local temples or mosques, live in majority Indian neighborhoods, shop at local Indian grocers, and invest in Satellite dishes to get mediocre Indian serials.
And then there are those who find less fruitful ways to cope. Those who join gangs to preserve their social identity. Such is a reality for Indians living in Vancouver, one of the most popular cities for Indians outside India.
In 2009, a gang war broke out in Vancouver. The war involved five gangs fighting over drugs. It culminated in over a hundred murders. The gangs were mostly made up of Indians.
I decided to find out what sparked the gang war and why Indian gangs have become so significant in Vancouver crime. In my research, I started out with a lot of questions. Did these gangs start as offshoots of gangs from India? What generation of Indians was at the heart of these gangs; new immigrants or second generation Indian-Canadians? How does Canada’s policy of multiculturalism factor into all this? Did it have a hand in creating these gangs? Finally, how did this gang war start?
Before any of these questions can be answered, let’s ask a simpler question: why does one join a gang?
People join gangs when they feel insecure of their surroundings. You join a gang because your friends and you are of a particular ethnic make up and you wish to unite as one and be strong against those who may persecute or bully you and your kind. You join a gang to find a group of people who look like you, speak like you, and share the same values. Such is the way the Italian and Irish gangs started at the turn of the 20th century, for they too were made up of new immigrants in a strange land.
At this turn of the century (2000), we saw a shift from that particular type of gang origin story. In Canada, gangs are becoming multicultural. This may come as no surprise to the average Canadian. Most Canadians are proud of the fact that their society is multicultural. Canada is an increasingly ethnic nation and the policy of multiculturalism is strong in government. So you’d think that a multicultural society reflecting a multicultural identity upon its citizens would no longer give birth to gangs made up of single ethnic groups.
This is far from the fact. Uni-ethnic gangs are also on the rise.
In sharp contrast to the boiling pot policy of the U.S., where all immigrants become American once they become citizens, Canada is more lenient and cherishing of immigrant culture. Canadians believe in promoting other cultures rather than boiling them all down to one. Thus, immigrants who come here can move into ethnic pockets of metropolitan cities or suburbs and never leave those pockets to interact with members of other ethnic groups. An Indian grandmother may never see a white person again because her world is her house and the playground where she takes her grandchildren to play with the other Indian children. There she chats with the other Indian parent of her majority Indian suburb. My own grandmother lived in Canada half her life, never learned to speak English except for greetings like “hello” and “goodbye” when answering the phone, and only had Indian acquaintances. Integration in Canada isn’t mandatory and is very weak, especially if you’re dependent and don’t have to work.
This type of existence probably led to the beginnings of the two Jat Sikh led gangs involved in the 2009 Vancouver gang war: the Sanghera Crime Group and the Buttar gang. These gangs originated in East Vancouver. Both kept operations internal, enlisting family members and close relatives to carry out acts. The Sanghera Crime group itself was completely family run. It was controlled by patriarch Udham Singh Sanghera, the sole autocratic leader of the gang. He made his sons major leaders in the gang who then enlisted cousins and brother-in-laws to carry out drug runs. Sanghera was a first generation immigrant in Canada. He wanted to make his family rich but couldn’t do it the legitimate way due to a lack of education and poor job prospects. The only ways he knew were criminal ones. In the 2000s, the Sanghera group were involved in shootings, abductions, robberies, home invasions, racketeering and extortion. When they entered the drug trade, they came into conflict with the Buttars.
Named after their leader Manny Buttar, police officials considered the Buttars ruthless and even more violent then the Sangheras. Buttar associates were involved in over a hundred murders prior to the war.
“The gang is run by men who have a sociopathic disregard for morals, right and wrong, and common decency,” claims Inspector Brad Desmarais of the Vancouver police.
You’d expect ethnic gangs to provide protection to immigrants of the same ethnic background. The Buttars, however, were known for their extortion methods on new immigrants.
According to Desmarais, the Buttar thugs “raised extortion almost to an art form. Every victim they come in contact with… [was] scared stiff.” The Buttars had a slight upper hand because they weren’t afraid to do dealings with other ethnic groups. Their group was more external in its operations.
While the Sanghera Crime Group and the Buttar gang waged street battles, three other very different gangs were also fighting over the drug trade. And now we return back to Canada’s policy of multiculturalism. With the Sangheras and the Buttars, the policy allowed the groups to remain contained, internal, and uni-ethnic. The policy had the complete opposite effect on second-generation non-resident Indians born and raised in Canadian schools.