Guns, gangs & extremism — how nexus of organised crime and Sikh separatism took root in Canada


The India-Canada diplomatic flare-up has once again brought attention to an old problem: the long-standing nexus between Indo-Canadian gangsters and Sikh separatists.

New Delhi: When the Lawrence Bishnoi gang claimed responsibility for killing Sukha Deneka, a pro-Khalistan gangster, in Canada this week, social media erupted with memes. One featured Bishnoi’s associate Goldy Brar with the caption, “Zara hum bhi to dekhein humse bada zimmedar kaun paida ho gaya (let’s see who is more responsible than us),”— a reference to Indian gangsters taking credit for numerous murders in India and Canada.

Undeterred by the downturn in India-Canada ties, social media fan pages and accounts glorifying gangsters and Sikh extremists continue to thrive. Some dedicated to Goldy Brar, Bishnoi, and other gangsters brim with reels glamorising gun violence. Others focus on the pro-Khalistan sentiment, with excerpts from past speeches of radical Sikh preacher Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and captions such as “Khalistan zindabad”.

Shortly after the assassination of Harpreet Singh Nijjar, the chief of the Khalistan Tiger Force, in Vancouver on 18 June this year, an unframed poster was discovered outside the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurudwara in the vicinity, referring to him as a “martyr”.

This week, Nijjar’s murder became the latest flashpoint between India and Canada when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused Indian agents of having a hand in the killing. India, meanwhile, accused the Canadian government of being a “safe haven for terrorists, extremists, and organised crime”. The Punjab Police launched raids against associates of Brar, who has ties to Canada, and the National Investigation Agency (NIA) announced cash rewards for Babbar Khalsa operatives.

This flare-up has once again brought attention to an old problem: the long-standing nexus between Indo-Canadian gangsters and Sikh separatists.

Many Canada-based gangsters, some of whom openly endorse separatist ideology, initially entered the world of crime through extortion and assault. Most started out in India, but as cases against them piled up, they fled overseas. Some of these gangsters aligned themselves with Sikh extremists. In addition, some of their associates remained in India and continued to run their gangs from inside Indian jails.

Also Read: Moose Wala ‘killer’, Babbar Khalsa militants — the ‘most-wanted’ men India wants Canada to turn in

Goldy Brar, Arsh Dalla & Bishnoi-Bambiha rivalry

Perhaps the most notorious among gangsters who went to Canada and operated their gangs in India from there, is Satinderjeet Singh alias Goldy Brar. He moved to Canada sometime in 2017 to evade action by Indian law enforcement. Authorities suspect that he continued to run his gang from Canada with help from gangster Lawrence Bishnoi — currently lodged at Gujarat’s Sabarmati prison.

Operating from Canada, Brar recruits new gang members, runs extortion rackets, and sanctions hit jobs, allegedly including against Sidhu Moose Wala last May.

A fugitive, his current location remains unknown.

Another name that surfaces in connection with the nexus of Indo-Canadian gangsters is that of Arshdeep Singh Gill or Arsh Dalla. A member of the separatist outfit Khalistan Tiger Force, Dalla is named in more than 20 criminal cases in India, including the beheading of a man in Delhi in January this year. He moved to Canada sometime in 2018 and is believed to have been involved in weapons smuggling, drug trafficking and assassinations.

His name made headlines again after it was reported Thursday that gangster Sukha Duneke — said to be an associate of Dalla — had been shot dead in Winnipeg, Canada, allegedly in a “gang war”. The Lawrence Bishnoi gang claimed responsibility for the killing.

Duneke, believed to be allied with the rival Davinder Bambiha gang, reportedly fled to Canada in 2017 on a forged passport. Bishnoi, as ThePrint reported earlier, had allegedly conspired to get Moose Wala killed on the suspicion that he had ties to the Bambiha gang. 

Apart from Gill, Brar, and others, Prince Chauhan, an associate of jailed gangster Virender Pratap alias Kala Rana also runs his gang from Canada. 

Ramandeep Singh alias Raman Judge, the brother of jailed gangster Gagandeep Singh of the Jaipal Bhullar gang is also suspected to be operating from Canadian soil. An alleged operative and recruiter of the Khalistan Tiger Force, he stands accused of terrorist activities in Punjab, the murder of a dera follower, and the attack on a priest in Phillaur in 2021.

Gangster-turned-terrorist Lakhbir Singh Sandhu alias Landa, whose name featured in the NIA’s latest list of suspected Babbar Khalsa operatives, fled to Canada in 2017. He is said to be closely working with Harvinder Singh alias Rinda, a Lahore-based terrorist associated with Babbar Khalsa International.

It is believed that Satnam Singh alias Satta, a former kabaddi player wanted in several cases including the Mohali RPG attack case, too moved to Canada from Portugal sometime over the last few months. Satta is suspected to be a close aide of Landa.

Nexus of organised crime & Sikh extremism

The nexus between Indian fugitives and Sikh extremists operating out of Canada can be traced back to the 1970s. The subsequent rise of gun and gang culture among sections of the diaspora there coincided with the influx of Sikhs in the wake of Operation Blue Star.

Over the years, Canada became a preferred destination for gangsters who wanted to run their gangs while staying out of the net of Indian investigative agencies. Many also inserted their hooks into the Punjabi music industry and began extorting singers for “protection”. There were also reports of them calling the shots over casting of actors in music videos.

For instance, Bhupinder ‘Bindy’ Singh Johal, who migrated to Canada in 1975 with his mother, ended up joining the ‘Punjabi gang’ of Ron and Jimmy Dosanjh — leaders of the separatist International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF), a designated terrorist outfit.

Pakistan-based Lakhbir Singh Rode, the nephew of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, now heads the banned outfit. His son Bhagat Singh Brar, along with Parvkar Singh Dulai — both residents of Surrey — were put on the no-fly list by the Canadian government in 2018. 

This nexus of organised crime and Sikh extremism operating on Canadian soil also surfaced in the aftermath of the 1985 bombing of the Air India Flight 182 that killed 329 people on board. Tara Singh Hayer, a prominent journalist and key witness in the case, was shot dead in Surrey, Canada, in 1998. The probe into his assassination remains unresolved.

Young men from Punjab, said a source in the Indian security establishment, are “smitten by drug money, fancy cars and everything else” they are shown by gang members. “Funds needed to run these gangs and procure weapons often come from pro-Khalistan leaders and those sharing similar sentiments,” the source added.

Over time, some Gurudwaras in Canada have also emerged as platforms for separatist voices.

Topping the list of separatist elements operating from Canada on the radar of Indian law enforcement agencies is Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, who is the ‘general counsel’ of the pro-separatist outfit Sikhs for Justice. A US based lawyer, Pannun has dual citizenship in the US and Canada.

Pannun had in 2022 called on Punjab-based gangsters to join hands to target Army officers “who led Operation Blue Star”. He even announced a reward of “$1,00,000” to anyone who reported the foreign visits of these officers to the SFJ.

In 2020, a confidential brief by Indian agencies had reportedly revealed that Canada-based drug cartels — Dhaliwal and Grewal gangs — were backed by Pannun and the SFJ.



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