SURREY/DELTA – Mani Amar sits in a coffee shop on the Surrey-Delta border, in the epicentre of the 25 shootings that have lit up local streets over the past eight weeks.
It’s close to home for the filmmaker, who has worked to create social change through film, tackling issues surrounding gangsterism and the Indo-Canadian community.
His latest film, Footsteps Into Gangland, based on true events, followed several young Indo-Canadians who find their lives destroyed by gangs and violence and abuse in their families. Some felt he was painting Indo-Canadians in a bad light.
After releasing his first film in 2009, Amar watched as half a dozen films with the same synopsis popped up.
"Somehow my work has made a mini-genre about this issue," he noted.
The gunfire in Surrey has sparked the activist in him, and after a couple years out of the limelight, he’s stepping out to speak about the dynamics he sees playing out in this turf war, and the South Asian community’s involvement.
Amar says he’ll "say what needs to be said. I don’t sugarcoat."
Police say the shootings are a result of two groups fighting over territory. They say one is of Somalian descent, the other, South Asian.
Of the 13 mug shots police released of suspects and victims who weren’t co-operating with investigators, 10 of the men belong to the South Asian community, Amar noted.
By his count, this is the third period of time the South Asian community has been involved in street-level crime.
"There was the mid-90s to early 2000s, there was the mid-2000s, and now we’re seeing it again.
"Is it a specific South Asian issue? Of course not," he continued. "That’s like saying domestic violence is just a South Asian issue. Or poverty is just an issue in the Middle East or South America. That’s not a fair way to address it. But should the South Asian community be concerned at this point? Yes."
According to Amar, a few things have led to the turf war.
First, is a gap left in street-level crime after gangsters have been incarcerated, killed or left the lifestyle over the last decade.
"Just like in any industry, a good businessman will find a market. There was a hole in street-level crime. Unfortunately, these young South Asian men took it upon themselves to enter it," he said.
Second, Amar said there’s a culture of silence.
While he acknowledged pride and honour are important in every culture, Amar said it might be more prevalent among South Asians.
Because of the reach of extended families, one person could bring shame to an entire network of families, he explained.
"I think that has a little bit of play into it – protecting their names," he continued. "And at the end of the day, it’s also irresponsible parenting. They’ll tell them to stop, and all is forgiven. They don’t need to go jail, cops don’t need to be involved, what’s done is done."
Residents should be concerned, according to Amar, both because of the brazen nature of the shootings and because it seems to be unorganized.
"These are young men with handguns."
Amar, a huge supporter of law enforcement, urges family members of suspects and the community at large to help police before someone else loses their life.
"It’s a playoff hockey game. It’s 0-1 right now. Then they’re going to make it 1-1, then 2-1, then 2-2," he said. "How long are we going to protect these young men for? One’s already dead. The numbers are going to pile up."
So, is another film in the works? "I’m torn," said Amar. "I can go back and do another film about gang violence, but we’re beating a dead horse with these films.
"I’ve inadvertently created a genre that I don’t want to be a part of anymore, because it’s become a genre where people can get instant notoriety and I don’t want that. That’s the wrong reason to be making these films."