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January 8, 2000
Over 5,000 Attend Slain Man's Funeral
A P Kamath
Community leaders and fellow cabbies have set up a trust fund for the family of slain Toronto taxi driver Baljinder Singh Rai.
Rai, who worked as a courier during the week and drove a taxi mostly on weekends, was killed on New Year's Day, reportedly by two teens. One of his two sons is polio-stricken.
At his funeral, attended by more than 500 taxi drivers and over 4,000 acquaintances, friends, community members and relatives, Rai was remembered as one of the hard working immigrants whose dream of owning a home, improving his sons's lives, was cut short because of a few dollars the robbers wanted.
Few funerals in Toronto have received so many mourners.
"His story touched a nerve in hundreds of people who never knew him," said Gurbir Singh, a taxi-driver, who added that slowly Canadians were understanding the problems cabbies faced. Rai was 48 and had lived in Canada for over a decade.
He was the second taxi-driver to be killed in a matter of one week in Toronto. Detectives are still seeking the killer of Mohammadullah Saighani, 48, whose stabbed and beaten body was found behind a factory.
Saighani, a doctor trained in Afghanistan, fled his country because of Taleban-led violence. He drove a taxi because he could not get a license to practice medicine.
Many taxi-drivers carried protest signs asking for more protection for drivers. Some wanted safety shields installed in the cabs, though a few years ago owners and taxi drivers had resisted a suggestion by city officials for the installation of safety shields.
Following the two murders, many cabbies do not drive in the nights, especially on weekends, owners of several fleets said.
Sukhraj Kalirai, president of Brampton Bramalea Kwik Cab, said Rai's murder had scared many drivers. Rai chose to drive his taxi in Brampton, on the outskirts of Toronto, because he felt safe in the town.
Kalirai said in the past week only 40 drivers agreed to work night shifts in Brampton, down from the usual 110.
"They know two people have been arrested, but there is still a lot of fear out there," he said. "Some drivers are talking about quitting altogether.''
The funeral parlor could hold less than 500 people. The line of mourners extended to several blocks.
Rai was stabbed to death about 20 minutes after he picked up two men. Police have in custody Michael MacDonald, 18, and Stefan Miceli, 19, who face first-degree murder charges. They will appear in court on January 20.
A Sikh priest conducted the two-hour ceremony. Rai's widow, Charanjit Kaur, was among those seated in the front row.
"He touched everybody's heart,'' said one of Rai's sisters-in-law, Iderbir Rai. "We didn't even realize just how many people he touched when he was working. Some people who used his cab came here today.''
Money for the trust may be sent to the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce to account No 75-22436, transit No 08552.
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