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January 22, 2000
Crime of opportunity or racial motive?
A P Kamath
As Michael MacDonald, 18 and Stefan Miceli, 19, appeared in a Toronto court on Thursday charged with robbing and stabbing to death taxi driver Baljinder Singh Rai many members of the Indian Canadian community said they are suspecting racial motive.
Many people suspect "this murder was a hate crime... that there was some racism involved,'' Gurdish Mangat, president of the Peel Multicultural Council told reporters after the two suspects were brought to the court to formalize the case against them.
But the investigators immediately asserted that they had found no racial motive in the murder after intensive questioning of MacDonald and Miceli. They believe Rai's murder was a crime of opportunity.
Rai, 48, was stabbed to death on New Year's Day in a deserted parking in Brampton, on the periphery of Toronto. According to the police he was repeatedly stabbed in his neck and shoulder. He managed to drive his car to a nearby pizzeria, and alerted the customers who called the police. He died in a hospital within an hour.
He had thought Brampton was a safer place to drive than Toronto. Rai drove the cab on weekends and holidays and worked as a courier during the other days of the week.
Mangat did not have any definitive reason for his allegations, but he pointed out that Rai was killed even after he handed over the money, and in recent months scores of cab drivers have been robbed or assaulted.
He also said when the two teens were first produced in the court in the first week of January, there were about 100 cab drivers to watch the proceedings. When they came out, they found many vehicles had been damaged. He believed racism was behind those acts, too.
Some Sikh cabbies in Toronto said they were reminded of the murder of Nirmal Singh Gill, caretaker of a gurdwara in Vancouver, who was found murdered over a year ago. Initially, the police suspected he was killed by Sikh fundamentalists who were opposed to the liberal gurdwara. Then the focus moved to robbery as a motive. But within a few months the police had in custody a group of young skinheads who had killed Gill out of animosity for immigrants. The skinheads were convicted recently.
Jamie Davis, a detective who questioned the teen suspects in Rai's murder, said his team had "reviewed hundreds of people associated with these two guys and there is nothing to indicate this was racially motivated in any way, shape or form.''
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