A premiere screening of a new documentary film looking at the outfall of Sikh gurdwara caretaker Nirmal Singh Gill’s death 25 years ago in Newton at the hands of white supremacist skinheads will be held at 3:30 p.m. Sunday, March 26 at Strawberry Hill Library, a few blocks from where the killing took place.
Imtiaz Popat, who directed the roughly 30-minute film “Hate Can Kill,” said his film will be featured at the South Asian Film Festival of Montreal from May 1-10 and will also be screened at Vancouver Public Library at 6:30 p.m. May 25, in keeping with Asian Heritage Month.
He said he wanted to launch the film close to the gurdwara.
“This is a new version of an older documentary which is more comprehensive, it’s got more analysis,” he said. “I wanted to re-release it so the story is not forgotten.”
Gill, the 65-year-old caretaker of the Guru Nanak Sikh temple on Scott Road, was beaten to death in its parking lot during his late-night watch on Jan. 4, 1998. Five young men who had ties to a neo-Nazi group called the Hammerskins were arrested for second-degree murder but pleaded guilty to manslaughter. Two were sentenced to 18 years in prison and the other three were each sentenced to 15 years in prison.
“This happened here in Surrey, in our backyard,” Popat said. “Not much has changed, people are still being killed in places of worship. It happened here in Surrey, it happened in Quebec, in New Zealand and other places, so we have to be vigilant.
“This is not an old story, this still is a current story.”
The public outcry following the crime was immense. In July 1998, a march against racism in response to Gill’s death drew about 2,500 participants in Whalley. Popat refers to Gill as Shaheed Nirmal Singh Gill, a term applied to a martyr to the Sikh faith.
Two of the five later appealed their sentences in 2001 but Justice John Lambert, of the Court of Appeal for British Columbia, rejected their arguments, with fellow Justices Harold Hollinrake and Mary Saunders concurring.
Speaking to the trial judge’s decision, Lambert said, “In my opinion, he imposed fit sentences for this despicable crime cruelly committed by a gang of racial bigots in pursuit of their racist aims.”
Popat now resides in Vancouver but works in Surrey, as does his family. “I’m a Surreyite,” he said. “Spending most of my time in Surrey, my life is in Surrey.”
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