You would think getting shot at might earn you some sympathy with cops.
That's not how it went down for Karman Singh Grewal, 25, Manbir Singh Grewal, 28, Ibrahim Amjed Ibrahim, 29, Indervir Singh Johal, 23, and Harmeet Singh Sanghera, 23, this week.
The five men were named by Surrey RCMP late Monday as "five individuals who have been the targets of shots fired incidents over the past two months." According to the cops, they've all refused to make statements to police, and are therefore a risk to public safety. In a statement the RCMP acknowledged the 20-somethings' "lives are in danger" but because they haven't cooperated on investigations, their names, photos and victim status are now on blast.
"Each of these individuals has refused to provide information to police on these violent incidents," assistant commissioner Dwayne McDonald, Surrey RCMP said in the statement. "At this point, we must assume that these men continue to be targets and, as such, we are advising the public to be cautious of any interaction with these five individuals."
British Columbia's Lower Mainland has been experiencing an "uptick" in gang shootings this summer, according to police. There were six incidents in July, which is actually a 47 percent drop over the same time last year. Like many conflicts before it, this one is believed to be over the drug trade, crossing between Vancouver, Surrey, Abbotsford and as far east as Chilliwack, BC. Despite cooperation from the province's anti-gang unit, the intel on the case has apparently been coming in slow.
Micheal Vonn, policy director at the BC Civil Liberties Association, said the disclosure of victim information was "shocking." It's really uncommon for police to name people without charges, especially if they've recently dodged a hail of bullets. It's not clear whether any of the men were injured in the shootings.
"What you have are intended victims of a crime being exposed, which is certainly a security concern," she said. "Their names, photos, and the allegation that they are uncooperative are all personal information."
Vonn said there are many reasons victims may not cooperate with police, particularly if doing so could invite more violence. If five victims of domestic assault refused to cooperate, for example, she said common sense and privacy/security concerns would prevent cops from revealing their identities to get information.
Vonn says under Canada's privacy laws, police would need to apply discretion to one of a few exemptions to justify the disclosure, but it's not clear which exemption they're using in this case. "It's a controversial enough a use of discretion that I would think a consultation with BC's privacy commissioner would be appropriate," she told VICE.
Publicly shaming alleged gangsters this way is an uncommon approach, but it's not totally unheard of. Back in 2015, I wrote about another spate of drive-bys in the area that pushed police to release names "in connection" with the shootings before charges were laid. At the time, long-time anti-gang advocate and filmmaker Mani Amar told me the intention is to put pressure on families to come forward with information.
"Releasing names ostracizes them in the community—shows their extended families, classmates, college teachers and whoever might know them what they're up to," Amar told VICE.
I called up Amar yesterday, and he said he thinks the RCMP did the right thing this time, too. "This is the RCMP saying if you hang out with lowlifes such as this, then you are putting yourself at risk."
Obviously the investigation tactic comes with consequences for these communities as well. If Twitter comments are an indication of public opinion, it looks like some neighbours would rather see these men die.
"I'm seeing a pattern in these photos…. can't kill them twice so when they're dead the shooting stops…. Just sayin," reads one tweet. "The immigration of people from India has created this problem. Surrey has become a threat to the residents and police who protect," reads another.
VICE asked Surrey RCMP if they consulted experts on Canadian privacy legislation before releasing the names, and under what provisions of the privacy act they decided on going public.
"The RCMP, which is guided by the federal Privacy Act, may disclose personal information to the media and the public where the assistance of the public is necessary to further a law enforcement investigation," Corporal Scotty Schumann told VICE in an email. "We believe that these named individuals will continue to be targeted and this puts other persons at risk of being caught in the cross-fire."*
No matter their tactics, cops could have more support from the province's new NDP government soon. In an interview with BC gang reporter Kim Bolan, the incoming solicitor general said they plan to listen to cities' concerns and make gang violence a priority.
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*Updated with Surrey RCMP comment Tuesday 12:45 PM PST.