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Growing Extortion activity in Canada has links in India: “South Asian Community is the target”

Dr Neelam Batra-Verma

“I think this is an opportunity for India to show to Canada that they are willing to cooperate with Canada. If the law enforcement agencies there offer their full cooperation it would be an excellent way to show that the two democracies can work in a collaborative fashion. “…. (Patrick Brown, Mayor, Peel Region) 

South Asian community in Canada: Beginning of January, a staggering $9 million worth of property went up in flames in the Edmonton area of Alberta, sparking concerns and attributions of the criminal activity to individuals from India. The surge in extortion cases is particularly alarming within the South Asian community in Canada.

Unverified reports suggest that these extortion cases within the community began around October in the previous year. Many incidents went unreported as victims quietly succumbed to threats and opted to pay up instead of involving law enforcement.

Originating in British Columbia, the criminal activity has now spread to Ontario and, most recently, Alberta. British Columbia alone has witnessed approximately 30 reported cases, while the Ontario region has reported around 20. Edmonton police are currently investigating at least 27 incidents involving ongoing extortion, arson, and firearms within the South Asian community.

Modus Operandi of extortion

The Edmonton Police have made six arrests on charges of arson and firearms-related offences. A drive-by shooting at a residence in northeast Edmonton on January 10 added to the escalating situation. During a press conference, Sgt. Dave Paton of the Edmonton Police Service confirmed that extortion threats are being communicated via WhatsApp groups. “Typically, our victims receive WhatsApp communication, and then from there, there’s a request that comes along with that for compensation to allow those victims to remain safe,” he stated. Paton also acknowledged that one of the suspects has fled the country. Although specific details regarding the amount of money being extorted were not disclosed, he affirmed that the sums involved are “significant.”

Extortion in Canada linked to India

Police agencies in British Columbia and Ontario have established links between violent activities against the South Asian community and the extortion demands. Incidents such as a targeted shooting at a strip mall in Surrey and a looted jewellery store have created widespread panic and fear within the community.

Last month, ANM reported shots fired at the house of a relative of the President of Laxmi Narain Temple in Surrey, with no updates on the case thus far. Satish Goel, the temple president, expressed his ongoing communication with the police agencies, emphasising the lack of progress in the investigation.

In 2023, Global News cited an internal Abbotsford Police memo suggesting possible links between the suspects and the Lawrence Bishnoi Gang. Currently in custody at Tihar jail in Delhi, Bishnoi is known to operate criminal activities from there and claimed responsibility for the killing of Sidhu Moose Wala in May 2022. At a time when India-Canada relations are strained, the resolution of these issues will be closely monitored to allay fears within the South Asian community.

In response to the escalating situation, city mayors have appealed to the federal government to formulate a multi-jurisdictional strategy to combat the cross-border extortion menace.

Peel Region Mayor Patrick Brown addressed questions raised by the South Asian community, emphasising the need for coordinated efforts between the two countries, to address the growing threat.
What evidence do you have that these extortion cases are being orchestrated from India. Do you know how are these letters delivered?

That’s what the police agencies in the Lower Mainland, in Edmonton and in the Peel region of Ontario have found in their investigations. At this point they have not released names and I cannot reveal how the threats were delivered. But mostly these threats are being delivered over Whatsapp groups.

Are you aware of total number of cases as of now?

I believe as of now there are over 20 cases in the Peel Region and over 20 in Edmonton and over 30 in the Lower Mainland. I believe they started in BC (British Columbia) first, sometimes-late last year but I cannot be specific. But we are certain there are unreported cases where people have already paid extortion and too terrified to go to police.

Which was the first city to be targeted and when?

As far as I know they started in BC first, then spilled over to Peel in the Brampton and now in Edmonton.

Are these the only who are being builders targeted?

Targets are not limited to builders. There are multitudes of people who are being targeted across the board, not only successful businessmen or builders. The latest incident happened in Edmonton where new houses being constructed by developers, were torched. Demands can vary from a few hundred thousand dollars to millions of dollars. We are seeing small businessmen, middle class families, community members in multitude of professions, not only just the rich ones. There are a variety of extortion events. This has been happening since late 2023 and we are now in 2024.

Have such threats been received in any other community?

So far, we know it is only the South Asian Community.

With India Canada relations at a low point, do you think the federal government will be able to work with the Indian government to resolve this issue?
Patric Brown
Patric Brown

I think this is an opportunity for India to show to Canada that they are willing to cooperate with Canada. If the law enforcement agencies there offer their full cooperation it would be an excellent way to show that the two democracies can work in a collaborative fashion.

It cannot be ignored that the acts of violence are committed by people in Canada and on Canadian soil. Isn’t it Canadian government’s responsibility to protect Canadian citizens?

We have been able to apprehend some people who have been committing acts here in Canada but those are the very low-level criminals. The person starting a fire or a person shooting at a home, tends to be someone struggling with addiction for example and he has been offered payment but the individuals who are coordinating this are not the low-level criminals here. They are outside of Canada. So, we are apprehending those people here for example they are extorting someone a million dollars and they a low-level criminal but may charge 5000 dollars to fire a shot or start a fire. We can apprehend the person who has fired the short and law enforcement agencies are doing that. But we need to stop this activity and to do that we need to apprehend international criminal gang which is orchestrating all this.

With Canadian citizens now being targeted by groups or individuals, against whom Indian government has always warned Canada, isn’t it high time that Canada take action against these elements?

That would be an assumption that the police have not made any attempt. My understanding is that individual is in jail in India and claimed responsibility for a large number of crimes everywhere. But it would be premature in investigation and that is not a conclusion that our agencies have come to.

How long do you think this investigation will go on? Community members need to feel safe in Canada.

I think it depends on the response from India side. As far as I know that Canadian investigation has reached a dead end in India. But I am purview to that confidential information.


Attack on kin of temple president

Story of Resilience and Emergence

Neelam Batra-Verma

On December 26th of last year, an alarming shooting incident unfolded at the residence of the son of the President of Laxmi Narayan Temple in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada. The Indian media has swiftly characterized this event as an act committed by pro-Khalistan elements, escalating concerns over the resurgence of such groups.


Around 2:26 am, three to four unidentified individuals engaged in a drive-by shooting at the residence situated on 80th Avenue in Surrey—a typically tranquil residential area. Although the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the Surrey Police are actively investigating the incident, Satish Goel, the temple president, asserts that there is currently no concrete evidence linking the attack to Khalistani groups. In an interview with ANM, Satish emphasized, “Till now no one has claimed responsibility or come forward. Therefore, it is not right to blame anyone or any group.”


Satish contends that his son harbors no animosity toward anyone, making it difficult to pinpoint potential suspects in this distressing act. He recounted how his son initially dismissed the noise he heard in the night, only realizing the targeted nature of the incident in the morning when he discovered shattered glass and bullet holes in the garage walls. Satish contacted the police, prompting an ongoing investigation aimed at swiftly resolving the case and restoring peace to the community.


The incident unfolds against the backdrop of a resurgence in pro-Khalistan sentiments in Canada, marked by “credible allegations” statement raised by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier this year, at the murder of Harjeet Nijjar in the premises of a Gurdwara in Surrey, by unknown elements. Satish, reflecting on the state of freedom of speech in Canada, expressed concern about its abuse, citing an increase in incidents such as vandalism. He highlighted instances where individuals had jumped the boundary wall of the temple, pasting flyers, and raising Khalistan slogans during a life certificate camp organized at the temple by the Counsel General of India. Since many residents still draw pension from India, government of India from time to time organizes these camps.


Over the past year, acts of vandalism against Hindu temples in Canada have witnessed a concerning uptick. Notable incidents include the vandalization of a Hindu temple in Brampton in January and an occurrence at the Ram Mandir in Mississauga in February. The BAPS Swaminarayan temple in Windsor, Ontario, fell victim to anti-India graffiti, while another Hindu temple faced pro-Khalistan referendum posters. In November, Gurpant Singh Pannun of Sikhs for Justice issued threats against Air India passengers and Hindus in Canada, raising tensions within the community.


Despite the rise in extremist activities, Satish urged caution against prematurely concluding that the Indian community is fearful of attending temples due to the recent shooting. Satish affirms that till now no Hindu has been harmed nor hurt in anyway, despite threats from some extremist elements and that no one feels unsafe in Canada. He noted ongoing police investigations into an extortion racket operated by anti-social elements targeting the community near Vancouver, emphasizing the need for a measured response to the evolving situation.


Neelam Batra-Verma

From being considered a disgrace and embarrassment to the community; from being intimidated and threatened by the community and from being a target of hate mail to being a respected speaker at the same Sikh temple which had first threatened and warned him, Alex Sangha has come a long way since 2008, when I first met him.


Fifteen years later and as Pride month of June is being celebrated around the world, I decided to meet up with him again to find out how his journey has been since he came out openly as gay. Though today he has become a well-respected member of the South Asian community, his journey has not been easy. It has been filled with acrimony, hostility, threats and intimidation. His mother has been his biggest supporter while for his dad, he is an embarrassment. “My father says that he loves me as his son but I don’t appreciate your lifestyle. He feels ashamed of me. According to him coming out is nothing to celebrate. It is embarrassing for the community. It brings shame to the family. Society tells him to be a gay brown guy like myself is not a good thing. ”


“I don’t expect my father to turn around and say I love your homosexuality. This is not going to happen. It is going to take him years to come to terms with it, as it is a direct challenge to his masculinity. For, he is my creator. He is my father,” he says in his award winning film Emergence – Out of the Shadows.


Despite surmounting obstacles, Alex forged ahead and achieved remarkable milestones. “I wasn’t expecting it to have the kind of impact I did on the community. When I first started Sher Vancouver, it was a Sikh group and we were getting a lot of backlash. People told me – you are not a Sikh, you are a disgrace to the community, and you are embarrassing the community etc. A major Sikh temple, Khalsa Diwan Society in Vancouver told me “There is no such thing as being gay and being Sikh”. I was getting hate mail from all over the world, even to the extent threatening my life. I went to the Sikh temple and prayed so I get the support I need to continue my journey. I needed to be mentally strong. People like me in our community were at risk. There is significant taboo and discrimination if you are queer among South Asian people, especially in our community.”


Why did Alex found Sher Vanouver? He had come out and was accepted by at least his mother, though still shunned by the community. A God fearing person, he was looking for support and creating a safe space for queer South Asian diaspora and for their friends and families, not jus for himself but others like him. Today, Sher Vancouver is a well respected BC based volunteer group, to help South Asians and others who identified as LGBTQ but are unable to come out and express themselves, resulting in many suicides. “There was this guy from Afghanistan who committed suicide and in his note he said that he was straight but people called him faggot, queer, homo and was constantly being bullied at school. He was a victim of homophobia and jumped off the bridge. That is when Sher was founded with an aim of helping such people.”


Alex says his journey started with his own self and his personal struggles with accepting himself. He has traversed an arduous path, conquering countless challenges along the way since he founded the Sher Vancouver in 2008, with an aim of helping others like him. Those who want to come out, those shunned and disowned by their own families once they let their skeletons out of their closet, are the ones who need help, support or love and before they take their own lives.


As a youngster, Alex had learnt to internalize his feelings. Today at 51 years, he says “I didn’t want to be gay. I wanted to be straight like anyone else. My journey has come full circle; we include all South Asian queer people and it is not just an organization just for Sikhs.”


Not too long ago, the same Khalsa Diwan Society in Vancouver, which had once condemned Alex, invited the group, to march in the Vaiskahi parade held every year in the city. Their outreach coordinator had reached out to the group, asking them to be part of the parade. “Unfortunately, later the outreach coordinator received a lot of backlash by the temple but it was too late by then. So we went and marched. What I realized then is that the South Asian community now has a lot of respect for me. At least they are not publicly making our life more difficult. They are more tolerating. That is what is has changed for now. The same temple which had told me that there is no such thing as a gay Sikh, reached out to me to give talks to the youth in the community to combat diseases like HIV and AIDS, depression, anxiety and other mental health related issues.”


Canada receives many students from India, who may choose this country, not only for higher studies but also as an avenue to escape, especially if they belong to the queer group. Once here, it is easy to come out without any backlash from their families. However, problem arises when these students face pressure from their families back home to sponsor them and bring them to Canada. Says Alex, “Many 19 year olds are afraid of rejection if they come out. They are already confused about their identities, they don’t know how will they fit into a gay world if they come out and how will their families treat them. For them, it is the fear of being rejected. Being honest is not easy. But for LGBTQ people, Canada is heaven. There are not too many countries in the world that gives rights to these people. I am not saying there is no homophobia or hatred in these countries, but at least the law is on our side.”


Alex’s award winning film Emergence – Out of the Shadows, follows one such young man who was disowned by his family, after he came out. He was sent to Canada as an international student and never went back. “I helped this young man, who was part of my film Emergence – Out of the Shadows. He was from Ludhiana, Punjab. He was disowned by his entire family. When he came here, he contacted many organizations but Sher Vancouver was the only organizations, which reached out to him. These things are still happening in our community and shows the importance of organizations like Sher Vancouver.”


According to his wikepedia page, Sangha’s debut feature documentary, Emergence: Out of the Shadows, was an official selection at Out on Film in Atlanta, ImageNation in Montreal, and Reelworld in Toronto. The film was the closing night film at both the South Asian Film Festival of Montreal and the Vancouver International South Asian Film Festival where it picked up Best Documentary. Emergence: Out of the Shadows also had a double festival premiere at the KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film Festival and the Mumbai International Film Festival during the same week, where it was in competition at both film festivals for Best Documentary. The film also had an in-person and online screening at the 46th annual Frameline: San Francisco International LGBTQ+ Film Festival which is “the longest-running, largest and most widely recognized LGBTQ+ film exhibition event in the world.” The film is available on Youtube.



It is unfortunate but true that for South Asian families, getting married are the next chapter in life, which many families impose on their children. Many are forced into marriages, which are further pushing the gay or lesbian people to the wall as they are being crushed between their own feelings and trying to keep the façade of a family person. Says Alex, “This is therefore, not only a cultural issue but also a health issue due to spreading of diseases like AIDS or HIV.”


As a Sikh, one has to be true to oneself, believes Alex. “We are all God’s creation. So if God has created me as a gay person, then I should be proud of that. Who has the right to judge God’s creation? If God created gay and lesbian people, He does not want them to suffer. We are equally God’s creation. In Sikhism, when two people come together, it is not a man or a woman coming together but two souls coming together. And those souls are genderless. As we know, your physical body turns to ashes when you die, but your soul lives on. Your spirit and soul is reincarnated. In Hinduism, they say Namaste when people greet each other with folded hands. Namaste means a divine light in me connects with the same divine spirit in you. That is what it means but people tend to forget that nature is diverse.”



Sangha is a counselor, a social worker, a filmmaker, head of a charity and much more. He provides free counseling to confused youth and became the first Sikh to become the Grand Marshal of the Vancouver Pride Parade in 2018. In 2010, he successfully lobbied the City of Delta in BC, on behalf of Sher Vancouver to install rainbow park benches in the city to support diversity and inclusivity. In 2020, Sher Vancouver released Queersome Desi Resources which is a specially curated comprehensive list of Queer South Asian Resources from around the world. Same year Alex was the proud winner of Inspiring Social Worker of the Year Award and in 2021, Sher Vancouver LGBTQ Friends Society became a registered charity. And the list of his achievements goes on.


Acceptance of the homosexual community, in India, is finally gaining momentum after the draconian Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalized same sex relationships, was repealed. It should not be forgotten that homosexuality was always acceptable in India and not a punishable offence. It was only after the British came to India, that homosexuality was criminalized in 1862 and the draconian Section 377 was introduced. Some famous temples like Khajuraho in central India depict many sculptures that represents sexuality. The temple was built by a ruler of Rajput Chandela Dynasty during the 10th century. Other temples, in the South India too, depict such images.


While there may be quiet a few resources for the LGBTQ people in Canada, for the South Asians, they may not be comfortable and feel invisible, especially if they are immigrants, when they approach common resources. The lack of feelings of belonging can further isolate the youngsters looking for acceptance and respect, after emerging from their closets. Even the families and parents of these people need support to fight the stigma and internalized homophobia and transphobia, still prevalent in the South Asian community, whether in India or out of it. Coming out is not easy for the LGBTQ fear of losing their family while the families fear losing their communities. The gay and lesbian of the South Asian community are no more invisible. They are normal people like any of us and deserve all respect and opportunities and should not be discriminated on the basis of gender or sexual orientation. Live and let live applies to all.





Canadian Criminal Code amendment: Addressing miscarriage of justice

Dr Neelam Batra Verma

Canadian Criminal Code: In an attempt to provide justice to those innocents who are found guilty of a crime they did not commit, Canada’s Federal Minister of Justice plans to introduce a bill to amend the Canadian Criminal Code. The aim is to set up an independent commission to review cases where the convicted are innocent but are proven guilty and are spending time in prison.

The main function of the commission would be to not only review but also investigate and then decide the criminal cases that ought to go back to the court for yet another trial. No, the commission will not replace the courts but will give those wrongfully confined, yet another chance at life.

What is the Canadian Criminal Code amendment?

So, what was the need for an amendment in law when there is already a system in place where the wrongfully convicted can seek it? As of now, there exists within the Department of Justice, a Criminal Conviction Group, in which individuals who have exhausted all their avenues can seek justice. Once the group has investigated the case, they then seek the Minister of Justice’s approval to either dismiss or allow the case to proceed further. So instead of the Minister deciding each case on the basis of fact and law, the new proposed law will give that power to the commission.


According to Federal Corrections Services Canada, the percentage of white people in prisons is 53.7%, Indigenous is 26.1%, Black 8.1% and Asians 5.9%. Justice Minister David Lametti, while addressing a news conference expressed regret that most files that he has seen for review come from white people.
He is hoping the change will ensure reviews are accessible to women, Indigenous people and racialized Canadians. “When I look at the files that come to me, I see a clear pattern. The applicants are overwhelmingly white men, and our prison populations do not look like that. This tells me that the system is not as accessible to women or to Indigenous peoples or Black or racialized people who are disproportionately represented in our criminal justice system. We have to change that, some of these files go back decades”, he said.

Miscarriage of Justice review

The new bill that is aimed at creating an independent commission to administer the miscarriage of justice review process will be called David and Joyce Milgaard Law. Who are these people? David Milgaard was just an average guy who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, way back on January 31, 1969. He was just 16 years old then. A nurse, Gail Miller was raped and killed when David and his friends were passing by the area. Two months later, David’s friend went to the police claiming that he had seen David behaving suspiciously on the morning of Gail’s murder and also remembering having seen blood on his clothes, leading him to suspect that his friend committed that murder. Years later, it was divulged that the friend had received a $2000 reward for providing that evidence.

Relief for inmates of “wrongful conviction”

As was common during that time, David and his friends were hallucinogenic drug users. Based on that evidence, David was put behind bars for 23 years while his family refused to believe that he committed that crime. He along with his mother Joyce Milgaard spent decades running from pillar to post trying to prove that it was not him who had committed the crime. He was finally released in 1992 and exonerated in 1997. Larry Fisher was caught and convicted of similar crimes later. In 1980, Larry’s ex-wife had gone to the police trying to tell the police that she suspected her husband, of killing Gail.


Despite the inspector finding that the second story credible, yet did not follow up with a report. According to Innocence Canada, David applied to the Minister of Justice to review his conviction but was turned down. When he applied the second time, the media picked up his story of wrongful conviction and finally the Minister asked the Supreme Court of Canada for its opinion. Eventually, in 1992, the court concluded that a new trial should be ordered and David’s conviction was squashed. It was later concluded that David’s conviction was a result of improper interviews of witnesses.

A new lease of life through the Canadian Criminal Code amendment

Whatever the case, the issue is that this man had to spend most of his adult life in prison. And when he got out, things had changed. People had moved on while his life had frozen in time. In an interview, he said, “Coping with being free after 22 years is hard. When I first came out I was a bit lost. Everything seemed so much faster, everybody was bouncing around. People seemed so busy. People didn’t seem to find time to just be kind of quiet, to take it easy. And I still find it like that, but I do take the time. Sometimes I just go camping and fishing or swimming and find my own time and pace. I hope that as time goes on I’ll feel a bit more comfortable.” Milgaard died of pneumonia last year, without having lived a life he was entitled to.
David Milgaard is just one of the many stories, rotting behind bars, with no avenue to redress or freedom.

Second trial after spending decades in jail

Yet another story that made headlines is of Tomas Yebes. He was found guilty of killing his two adopted sons, on the basis of circumstantial evidence. A fire expert had testified that the fire, which killed the two boys, had been deliberately set. All his friends had rallied around him telling the court that Tomas was a loving dad and a very kind and gentle soul but all pleadings did not register with the jury. Justice Wallace who sentenced him to life in prison with no chance of parole attributed the murders to “domestic problems and discord” that had been going on in his family and speculated Tomas “murdered these young boys and deprived them of their lives, presumably to remove an obstacle or impediment to your domestic happiness. One can only feel revulsion for the senseless deprivation of the lives of these two young men,” he said. Tomas begged the court not to close the case and pleaded he was innocent. Even his ex-wife said that Tomas was not the kind of a person to lay a hand on anyone but she was not called as a witness at trial. He appealed but to no avail as the higher courts upheld the conviction.

Tomas was convicted in 1983 and spent 37 years in jail for a crime he did not commit. It was in 2019 that federal Justice Minister David Lametti, who believed that Tomas should get another trial or appeal, accepted his application for a review. Tomas was finally acquitted of the murders. There are many such stories, which are yet to be told. Will their ordeal ever see the light of day or will they carry them to their graves? How many families have the willpower and resources to see them through as Joyce Milgaard? After all, trying to get your case heard once again in court or filing an appeal, certainly is an expensive affair and not for everyone to pursue. With the new commission, funding would be provided to applicants who need it. According to reports, one out of every twenty people found guilty of a crime is innocent and wrongfully confined.

Canadian Criminal Code amendment likely to be passed in the Canadian parliament

According to Innocence Canada, a group that is trying to highlight such stories, there are at least 90 cases under review and it has helped exonerate at least 24 people since its inception in 1993. The proposed Miscarriage of Justice Review Commission Act or David and Joyce Milgaard’s Law is likely to be passed in Parliament without any issue. After all, no political party or politician would oppose such a bill that is likely to help the innocent or they would be labelled as siding with the criminals and not good for their political careers.

The aim of the new Bill-C40 is to create confidence in the justice system and to give access to those who are wrongfully convicted, another chance to get their time in court, removing all barriers. This would be especially helpful for those who belong to marginalized sections of society like the Indigenous, Black or others. It is high time miscarriage of justice is addressed as quickly as possible to mitigate the impact it has on the convicted and their families. Reforms in the justice system have long been on the table; wheels of justice have finally started to roll. Certainly, everyone needs a second chance in life and the new bill certainly will give hope to not only the innocents but also their families.


Overdose crisis in Canada’s BC – From Criminal Justice to Health care


Dr. Neelam Batra Verma

Overdose crisis: Kylie Walker was just 18 years old when she overdosed along with five other teenagers but she was the one who died, in Victoria, British Columbia.

Carson Crimeni, was 14 years old when he was found by his grandfather on the pavement of a skate park and later died in hospital. As he lay on the ground in apparent distress, videos appeared of Carson’s last moments on social media making it obvious that he deliberately overdosed. His phone was found in a nearby garbage can.

A 16-year-old girl died in a posh Vancouver school, of likely fentanyl overdose. Despite being rushed to the hospital and timely treatment, she died six days later, leaving the students, her family, and the community still wondering what happened. Her family did not want to release her name.

Debbie Porter was 49 years old when she died of an overdose on Vancouver Island. She struggled with drugs and mental illness for most of her life.

Elyse Bailey was 21 when she was found in a stairwell on the Vancouver Downtown Eastside, of an apparent overdose. She was a hockey goalie and passionate about music.

Ryna Norris was 35 when he died of a suspected fentanyl overdose in an East Vancouver apartment while waiting for treatment for depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and suicidal tendencies.

Jordan Hunter Carhoun was 25 years old when he died after smoking what he thought was heroin but turned out to be fentanyl.

And the story goes on. But you get the point that drugs are consuming bright young lives, age, social status, or education no matter what. It was always believed that most addicts belonged to poor uneducated families and mostly belonged to First Nations.

That myth is now broken.

Addiction beyond races, cultures

Addicts come from all walks of life – they are a school or college students; runaway kids, prostitutes, construction workers, engineers, the depressed, the struggler, the frustrated, the mentally or physically ill, the troubled teen or tween, from a broken or loving family, the loner, maverick or weirdo or conformist or just someone who recently had surgery and was prescribed these drugs for pain. But once treatment is over, their doctors may not prescribe them anymore and the patient will then turn to the drug trafficker to get their fix. Dates, when these deaths occurred, have deliberately been excluded as those do not matter. Those who lost their loved ones were family; for the government, they are rendered mere statistics.


Overdose crises in BC

Between 2016 and 2022, 23,000 Canadians died due to drug toxicity. Latest figures show that in 2022 as many as 2,272 people died of suspected drug toxicity in the Canadian province of British Columbia (BC) alone, which was slightly lower than the 2,306 records set in 2021, reported BC Coroner Service. Total drug overdose death in Canada in 2022 stood at 3,556 in the first six months of the same year, with BC taking the largest share. The first month of 2023 has already seen at least 45 deaths in BC, which means we are losing more than 6 people a day to drug overdose, which is nothing but unacceptable. Dr. Paxton Bach, an addiction medicine specialist in a news conference last week said, “To the families of the 45 individuals who have passed away in the last week alone … to their friends and their colleagues and their communities and loved ones: my heart goes out to you and I’m so sorry that we’re continuing to fail.” Failing we surely are. “I hope that we can sit with that grief and that outrage. I hope that every citizen of the province reflects on this report and feels that outrage and uses that to drive the advocacy that is needed to generate change.” Bach is also the co-medical director of the BC Centre of Substance use.

Legalizing quantities to control overdose crisis 

Paxton was speaking at the recently announced decriminalization initiative declaring small amounts of illegal drugs legal for those above 18 years in BC. The question is, will legalizing just 2.5 grams of certain drugs end the drug overdose crisis in the province? BC chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe admitted that this is only a “key first step” but “only one measure of many that are necessary to end this crisis.” She rightly believes that the goal should be to deter people from using drugs.


Public health emergency

A public health emergency was declared back in April 2016 in BC, the year, which saw 994 deaths due to the toxicity of illegal substances. It has taken more than six years to reach the threshold level of legalizing 2.5 grams of certain drugs for personal possession. This amount is almost half the amount requested by the province. For now, decriminalization is a three-year pilot project, which advocates have only described as half-measures.  Provincial minister of Mental Health and Addictions Jennifer Whiteside acknowledged “decriminalization of pilot alone will not fix the problem. We know there’s more to do and we won’t stop working until we turn the tide on this crisis.”

Exemption extended by Health Canada

So, what exactly is changing? Starting January 31, 2023, Health Canada granted an exemption to adults from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act for possessing 2.5 grams of opioids like heroin, morphine, fentanyl, crack and powder cocaine, Methamphetamine, and Ecstasy. No criminal charges will be laid if an adult is found in possession of these and within limits and drugs will not be seized. Instead, they will be offered health and social services, including referrals to local treatment and recovery services.

Local governments have the last say

This exemption does not apply to youth and if found in possession of a combined total of 2.5 grams of illegal drugs or any number of illegal drugs not on the list. Drug trafficking still remains illegal and these substances are not to be sold in stores. If drugs are found in schools, airports and such sensitive locations will be seized and criminal charges will be laid. However, local governments would still have the authority to pass bylaws restricting public substance use.


BC’s fight against toxic drug overdose crisis

What is the need to decriminalize certain drugs? The aim is to intensify BC’s fight against toxic drug crises and to reduce the barrier and stigma that prevents addicts from accessing life-saving support and services. It is also an attempt to divert the issue to public health from criminal justice, as the latter has not drawn results in the province. As of now, people arrested for small possession would go to jail, be bailed out within 24 hours, and then go back to their drugs, whether it is consumption or trafficking. Legal Aid is provided to those who are not able to afford a lawyer so, money to pay the lawyer is never an issue.

Traffickers are used to commit the crimes

It’s a vicious cycle where the traffickers or addicts come and goes through revolving doors a number of times in their lives. Their brush with the law is unlimited as arresting and getting out becomes a part of their lives. The social stigma attached to drug addict result in their family and friends shunning them, further rendering them out into the streets and in isolation; therefore, when they overdose, there is no help around. Downtown Eastside in Vancouver is a case in point where tent city houses these addicts, who not only belong to BC but people from other parts of the country find Vancouver streets welcoming, due to the easy availability of not only drugs but other facilities in the area

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Musing: Empty Nester Regrets

Mark Twain in his book “The Mysterious Strangers” wrote “There has never been a just [war], never an honorable one — on the part of the instigator of the war.”

Rightly said, no wars are honourable and no wars are just and all wars are avoidable and can be won with words and language. All this makes for a feel good quote but in a world filled with politics and diplomacy and yearn for power, words are merely so.

At a time when Russia is invading Ukraine, China is preparing to take over Taiwan and Iran is flexing its muscles, the war of words is long over. It’s all about logistics and manpower and about losing and winning. Mere logistics cannot win wars and mere soldiers cannot win battles. Everything goes hand in hand. There can be no win without a loser and while the winners rejoice on their victory, the loser sulks and waits for its next opportunity. But losses cannot be defined and therefore can be physical, emotional and even suffering of existence. Dead or alive? Existing or extinct? Read more

The winners and losers of 1971 India-Pak War

Mark Twain in his book “The Mysterious Strangers” wrote “There has never been a just [war], never an honorable one — on the part of the instigator of the war.”

Rightly said, no wars are honourable and no wars are just and all wars are avoidable and can be won with words and language. All this makes for a feel-good quote but in a world filled with politics and diplomacy and yearn for power, words are merely so.

At a time when Russia is invading Ukraine, China is preparing to take over Taiwan and Iran is flexing its muscles, the war of words is long over. It’s all about logistics and manpower and about losing and winning. Mere logistics cannot win wars and mere soldiers cannot win battles. Everything goes hand in hand. There can be no win without a loser and while the winners rejoice in their victory, the loser sulks and waits for its next opportunity. But losses cannot be defined and therefore can be physical, emotional and even suffering of existence. Dead or alive? Existing or extinct? Read more

Manasvini Hindi Cultural Society turns one

Surrey BC – Manasvini, a literary women’s association in Vancouver Canada celebrated their one year anniversary on Saturday April 23rd at the Newton Cultural Center, Surrey BC. Four eminent women speakers were invited to share about their accomplishments, their struggles in a new country and inspiring journey. A book written by Neelam Batra-Verma, 1971:A War Story based on a true story of the missing 54 Missing Prisoners of War from the 1971 India Pakistan War, was launched on this occasion for the audiences and members of Manasvini. Read more


International Day of Pink

Wearing pink just one day a year does not fulfil your commitment to fight homophobia, transphobia or any other form of bullying. This year April 13 is being celebrated as International Day of Pink (2SLGBTQIA+ awareness) and we invite you on this day, to pledge, reflect and commit to creating awareness about these issues in society which plague us all – in schools, in college campuses, at workplaces, on the streets or even in transit. Read More

Animus approach to living

What can be more amazing than to receive an appreciation letter from the Premier of British Columbia, John Horgan on a life not only well lived but also highly inspirational, passionate and motivational.

“You have proven yourself to be an inspiration to not only your community but to all British Columbians,” affirmed Horgan’s letter to Gian Singh Kotli, a Punjabi scholar, a teacher, a lawyer, a hockey player, a writer, a poet, a hiker, a litterateur, a snowshoer and many other hats that he wears with pride.

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A 365 day challenge with mother earth

Remember March 2020, when the scare of a new infectious disease COVID-19 was at its peak, when suddenly thousands of people were dying of this new epidemic never heard of before when the entire world had shut down and most of us were asked to hide behind our masks, inside the four walls of our homes, huddled behind our computers and stay away from friends and family. While we did all that, this adventourous couple instead entered into a year long challenge where they pledged to eat only what they grew, catch, forage, harvest and raise.
Shocked! Of course. This feels like going back to the 18th century when box stores selling plant or machine produced foods did not exist. That is what human beings did back then. And then
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Racism in British Monarchy only credulous

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s interview has not just triggered the racism row but brings forth the hypocrisy of how British have ruled the world. ‘Much awaited’ Buckingham Palace response which came after ‘crises meetings involving senior royals’ said that it takes race issues “very seriously”, that… Read More…

SSR Death: Murky Mystery Getting Muddier

Revelation of Drug angle in Sushant Singh Rajput’s death seems to have opened up a mysterious ‘black box’ of nexus between ‘Bollywood and Drug Cartel’. With new expose coming every single day – love, conspiracy, depression, suicide, embezzlement, extortion, murder, drugs, rape, trafficking; mafia – police… Read More…

2020: A Pyjama Story

Be careful what you wish for, lest it comes true! This phrase originated in Aesop Fables centuries ago. Who would have thought that this phrase would come true in 2020, after years of my hundreds of wishes going unfulfilled, unrecognized and unheard? But amazingly, this one has (smiley emoji). Read More…

Sushant Singh Rajput Death: Many Firsts in the Case

Two months of persistent movement by fans of the bollywood actor late Sushant Singh Rajput (SSR), finally resulted in his case being transferred to CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation). While we discuss and question at this point the role of Mumbai police and its reputation, which clearly has taken a hit, other… Read More…

Trial By Social Media-Guilty Till Proven Innocent By Dr. Neelam Batra-Verma

It is Important to Investigate the Missing Links in Investigation Theories of Actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s Death in Order to End Trial by Social-Media.A lot many years ago, I used to write stories on trial by media. This is 2020, and trial by media is obsolete. Read more…

Baron of Boondocks By Dr Neelam Batra-Verma

One by one President of Unites States’ cases are falling flat in the courts of law. In November second week President Donald Trump’s team had to drop a lawsuit, asking for a review of a handful of votes, in Arizona; the Trump campaign lost six cases in Philadelphia and Montgomery Counties over 9000 votes… Read More…

Sushant Singh Rajput’s Death: Police Should Follow Protocol Dr. Dinesh Rao

Dr Dinesh Rao has been a Professor and Head of the Department of forensic medicine at The Oxford Medical College, Hospital & Research Centre, Bengaluru, and former Director and chief forensic pathologist in Kingston, Jamaica.
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Biden’s ‘pipe-line’ of priorities

The 46th President of United States of America, Joe Biden got down to business immediately after inauguration on January 20th, 2021 and signed a record breaking 17 executive orders, beating a previous record of just one executive order signed on the day of the inauguration. Read More…

Baljit Chadha : Exporting death to India

It is ironical but true that people like Baljit Chadha want to earn a quick buck at the cost of dying workers in poor countries like India and China. It is high time anti-asbestos groups come together and stall his efforts to export death to… Read More…

No NRIs Please

As India’s economy boomed, the demand for the NRI groom took a nose-dive. It is not only the reputation of the NRI that has travelled via the net that is keeping the prospective brides away, but the recent economic downturn has further strengthened Indian… Read More…

No pardon for the victims’ families

Irked by the fact that girl killer Karla Homolka is eligible for pardon this year, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has asked Public Safety Minister Vic Toews to table new legislation in the coming months that would tighten the pardon system.  Read More…

Pandit Jasraj – Bright sun of Indian Music

Legends don’t need introductions. Legends are sources of inspiration and have achieved what might need a few life times. He is now 80 years old but has spent more than six decades trying to popularize classical singing all over the world. A few years back… Read More…

Pandit Jasraj – The musical journey continues

Legends don’t need introductions. Legends are sources of inspiration and have achieved what might need a few life times. He is now 80 years old but has spent more than six decades trying to popularize classical singing all over the world. A few years back… Read More…

Remembering Cairo

Looking at the chaotic scenes on television on the streets of Cairo recently, I couldn’t help but reminisce about the days I spent in the city when my father was posted there as a diplomat of the Indian Embassy. My memories of the city are happy and sweet… Read More…

Success is my mantra, my passion, my reason to live – Russhita

Russhita Singh — the name may not ring a familiar bell — but the young girl is already being tipped as the next big artiste to hit the marquee. She is being fondly talked about in the Indian film circle since she got the opportunity to share screen space with… Read More…

Facebook fetched the role

Shakti Kapoor’s daughter Shraddha Kapoor, who made her debut in the blockbuster ‘Teen Patti’, will finally be known as herself now. Till now, she was recognized as being the daughter of the actor/comedian father Shakti Kapoor. She played the character… Read More…

Black and Blue Sari

Black and Blue Sari is the first book the author, Kamal Dhillon has ever written. She doesn’t know, there may or may not be more to come. She talked to the editor of TAOM at length about her book and the circumstances that led to her first attempt at creativity. Read More…

Life behind the veil

They are fifty per cent of the population in Afghanistan yet have toiled equally or more in the social and economic life of the country. They have contributed socially and economically yet have suffered at the hands of their male counterparts who have tortured… Read More…

Frozen Frames

There are contrasts-the great Mahatma Gandhi getting off a Third Class compartment while Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister getting off a First Class compartment at a railway station. There are moments captured in frames of Gandhi arguing with… Read More…

SDM –Downsizing India or objet d’art

As Slum Dog Millionaire is showered with accolades, many are left wondering whether the film is meant to depict India in a poor light in an attempt to stop its super power growth or the film really is a work of art. An analysis by Editor Dr. Neelam Verma.  Read More…

A War Story

Former LINK Reporter Neelam Verma’s Debut Novel 1971 – A War Story Examines The Missing And Presumed Dead 54 Indian Soldiers Inside Pakistan. Lest we forget that the 54 Indian defence personnel who had gone to 1971 India Pakistan war… Read More…

The final cruise

Tis but human nature to live in denial that nothing bad could ever happen to us. It always happens to “other” people. Sometimes, those “other” people can be you. Every immigrant who leaves family and friends in their home country and plans to… Read More..

The Good And Evil Make Their Spirit Felt During Diwali

Every year on Halloween day, I am reminded of the harrowing experience I had on the first Halloween of my life when I first moved to Canada from India. I had read about the festival in books and watched some children’s movies as a child but had… Read More…

Ghost Consultants – on the run

The move by the victims of fraudulent immigration consultants to unite and act is now gaining momentum. Hundreds have joined in the campaign to fight for justice as Immigration Minister Jason Kenney pushes Bill C-35 in parliament… Read More…

Honour killing – an excuse to kill

Shafia trial – Is it an eye-opener by Dr Neelam Batra Verma. Is the Shafia case an eye-opener? Not really. There have been numerous similar cases before and they continue to occur in different parts of the world. Lessons are learnt and soon forgotten. Read More…

India’s Lost Wealth

As the news of the recovery of SS Gairoppa made headlines, it had people round the world thinking as to whom does this “loot” belong to. While it was the British who hired the Florida-based Odyssey Marin Exploration to locate the ship wreck, which… Read More…

Interview with Vikas

As an Indian Foreign Service officer, Vikas Swarup’s job was to manage India’s image abroad. He was far away, posted in London, at the time when he wrote his novel Q&A, more famously called Slum Dog Millionaire. He was miles away from the grit and grime of… Read More…

Marriage of Convenience

In an attempt to control fraudulent marriages in Canada, Immigration minister Jason Kenny held town hall meetings in Ontario, Vancouver, and Montreal etc apart from visiting immigrant rich countries like India, China and Philippines in an attempt to… Read More…

No pardon for the victims’ families

Irked by the fact that girl killer Karla Homolka is eligible for pardon this year, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has asked Public Safety Minister Vic Toews to table new legislation in the coming months that would tighten the pardon system. Read More…

ME TOO: The Rogue Gallery Of Dirty Old Men

Though I cannot forget the suffering I had endured that time, yet years later, I am not sure if it is ethical enough to take names of those who have harmed me as I hope, some “may be” leading a quiet life somewhere now. Quiet possible, they… Read More…