Homicide of international student leaves Sikh community shaken

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A devastating loss Jose Antonio Gallego Velasquez

Prabhjot Singh Katri mourned in Truro

In the early hours of Sunday, September 5, police in Truro, Nova Scotia responded to a 911 call where they found a 23-year-old man with life-threatening injuries from a sharp weapon outside an apartment building on Robie Street. The man later died of his injuries.

While Truro Police did not initially name the victim, several people in the town of 12,000 identified him as Prabhjot Singh Katri, a young man who had migrated to Canada in 2017 on a study visa from the Bukkanwala village in Moga, Punjab, India. Truro police chief David MacNeil confirmed that Khatri was the victim on September 7. Singh had completed his studies, was on a work visa, and was applying for permanent residency in Canada while working two jobs to help support his family in India. He lived with his sister and brother-in-law, and on the day of the incident was returning to his apartment from his job as a taxi driver, according to Jatinder Kumardeep Singh, a friend of the victim. Singh added that there are only a handful of Indian international students in Truro, and most share the same social circles. Currently, the Indian community in Truro is feeling extremely unsafe. Other friends of the victim point out that nothing was taken from Singh, and even his phone was still on his person, which they believe rules out robbery as a motive. Friends of the victim feel this was definitely a hate crime, and have expressed concerns that the fact that Singh wore a turban may have drawn attention to him.

In an update on Tuesday, September 7, MacNeil told the public that Truro police have no information on a motive that they are releasing at this time, but do not believe there is any ongoing threat to the general public or other international students. No reason was offered as an explanation for why police don’t think there is any danger to the public. Truro police are treating his death as a homicide, and had detained an individual who was questioned and subsequently released from custody without any charges related to the homicide. However, police said this individual remains a person of interest in this case. Police have not released any other details about the case. They have met with family and friends, as well as representatives of the Sikh community of which Katri was a member. MacNeil said he cannot elaborate why he thinks the larger community is safe, but said he is comfortable with where they are in the investigation and that adequate resources are being dedicated to the case. Truro Mayor Bill Mills also feels there is nothing as of yet to indicate racism was a motive in the crime.

Friends of the victim have started a fundraiser get his body back to India, where his mother lives by herself and relied on the money Katri used to send back home since his father, a soldier in the Indian Army, passed away in 1999. Friends, co-workers, and neighbors of the victim describe him as a pleasant, hard-working person. He was the youngest of three siblings, and is survived by his mother and two elder sisters.

A candlelight vigil was held on Friday, September 10,, starting at Truro Mall and ending in the apartment building where his body was found. Speaking during the vigil, his sister Rajveer Kaur said that members of the family had moved to Canada in search of better opportunities to support their family back home, and expressed hope that her family gets justice for this murder. Simardeep Hundal, president of the Maritime Sikh Society, said the Sikh community is in shock and also fearing for their safety. She said friends of the victim who saw him injured are traumatized, and that young Sikhs in Truro who are juggling work, school, and other commitments already are definitely feeling very anxious about the situation. The town’s mayor has announced that counselling services will be made available to community members. Friends and family, and the community at large, have expressed trust that the Truro Police are doing their best to ensure justice for the victim’s family.

In a separate statement, the Maritime Sikh Society said it is satisfied with the direction of the investigation, and asked community members to be patient and have faith in the system. Fareed Khan, founder of Canadians United Against Hate, said that taxi drivers are particularly vulnerable to instances of hate crime.

The incident has left an impact on Sikh communities all across Canada. Sikhs have always stood out because of the prominent turbans Sikh men wear, and this is not the first time the community has been on the receiving end of hate crimes. Prabhjot Singh Katri was just 23. He was working hard, and by all accounts a pleasant person with many friends and well-wishers. It is disheartening that his life came to such a brutal end, and we sincerely hope his family finds some solace through the perpetrators being brought to justice.

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