National Post (Latest Edition)
‘All the money I had has been taken,’ sikh priest says
Immigration scam left family destitute, says priest
Prabhjot Singh had one main goal when he came to Canada earlier this year: to work as a priest in one of the country’s many Sikh temples. And support his young family in the process.
He thought he had found a spiritual home in Abbotsford, B.C., this February, making him part of the little-known system that regularly imports religious workers from India.
But seven months later, Singh claims he’s lost his life savings, faced threats of violence and been left struggling to feed his two children, prevented by his alleged employers and immigration rules from working in Canada.
He blames what Sikh religious leaders say has become a pernicious problem — operators of phoney temples who sponsor religious employees for work permits in exchange for tens of thousands of dollars.
Many are left high and dry once they arrive in Canada, the Sikh leaders say, victims of an unusual form of immigration fraud.
Singh’s charges seem particularly eye- opening. The mastermind behind the alleged fake- temple scheme that relieved him of $29,000 is an official at a legitimate temple, or gurdwara, he asserts. That official also happens to be facing three firearms charges in an unrelated 2018 shooting incident.
“The temples are meant to help people, to feed people. ( But) the management is ripping off people,” charged Singh through a Punjabi interpreter. “This is ridiculous. I’m so depressed. All the money I had has been taken. We don’t even eat proper food. We just have survival food because we don’t have any money left.”
By coming forward with the lurid tale, Singh has put a rare human face on alleged immigration scams that unfold largely in the shadows. At a news conference for Punjabi- language media in British Columbia this summer, he broke down in tears.
But Jatinder Singh Gill, the secretary of Abbotsford’s Khalsa Diwan Society, which runs the town’s real gurdwaras, dismissed Singh’s accusations about him as lies, part of a plot by opponents in an upcoming gurdwara board election who want to discredit him.
He says he never received a cent from Singh and would gladly give him a job today.
“I am totally upset, with all the stress right now. We never took the money, we never defrauded,” said Gill. “If he has any proof, give it to me … If he has a witness, show me. If he needs a job, come to the temple.”
The tangled story began after Singh arrived in Montreal from Jalandhar, India with his wife and two girls — aged three and 10 — on visitor visas. He had served stints as a temporary temple priest in Canada before and soon heard through a friend of a friend that a gurdwara in Abbotsford was looking for religious workers.
A go-between in Winnipeg said he first had to transfer $4,000 to her, Singh alleges. He says he then flew to B.C. this past February and met with Gill, who allegedly told him he had to pay $ 42,000 in total to receive first a work permit, then permanent resident status.
Gill secured the work permit as promised, but said he was withholding the document and Singh’s passport until he paid an instalment of $ 22,000 in cash to a local immigration consultant, J. S. Kapoor, Singh alleges.
Desperate for work and permission to stay in Canada, Singh says he spent the next two weeks collecting the money from India and from friends here.
But there was a catch. The permit did not say he would work at Khalsa Diwan Society, which according to the organization’s own website, is the corporate name for the institution. Khalsa Diwan is the entity which hires people and arranges immigration papers, said Satnam Singh Gill, a former secretary of the facility.
Instead, the permit said Singh would work at Gur Sikh Temple and Sikh Heritage Museum Society. Though Khalsa Diwan does run a Gur Sikh Temple, the society name on the permit matches word for word a non- profit registered in December 2019 to Jatinder Gill’s home address in Abbotsford. He and two other men are listed as directors, according to the B.C. government’s corporate registry. Gill says the society belongs to Khalsa Diwan and was mistakenly tied to his own address.
Meanwhile, Singh alleges Jatinder Gill and his associates extorted $ 3,000 more from him, but flatly refused to give him any work.
When the priest objected, Gill threatened to have him deported and to shoot him if he complained to the police or other third party, Singh claims.
He says he took the alleged threat seriously. In December 2018, Jatinder Gill was charged with two counts of unlawfully discharging a firearm and one of discharging a firearm with intent to wound after a shooting that took place outside his home. Witnesses reported multiple shots fired, and a man shooting at a car. Gill declined to comment on the case. No plea has been recorded, but he has opted for a trial by judge alone, with the date to be set on Oct. 5.
Singh did complain to Abbotsford police in July, and went public about his accusations with the help of Satnam Gill, who is himself involved in a civil- court dispute with the Abbotsford temple’s current board.
“I’m sick to my stomach that somebody used our temple’s name and charged money for something that should be free,” said Satnam Gill. “It’s very sad.”
After going to the police, Singh alleges that someone representing Jatinder Gill offered to return the money he’d paid if he withdrew his criminal complaint. He refused.
Abbotsford police say they can’t release information on Singh’s complaint for privacy reasons, except with his consent under a lengthy access-to-information process. It appears that no charges have been laid.
Regardless, Jatinder Singh Gill says it’s all a fabrication, with Singh put up to it by the “opposition” led by Satnam Gill.
He says he has never threatened a soul. And if Singh had to pay any money, it was paid to Kapoor for his immigration consultant services, said Gill, who insisted he’s never met the consultant. Kapoor could not be reached for comment.
Meanwhile, Gill noted, Singh has obtained another work permit, authorizing him to work at an organization called Central Valley Cultural Society.
Singh says he has no idea how he obtained that work permit, but suspects it was a result of his allegedly having to sign a letter — written in English he didn’t understand — under pressure from Gill and associates.
The name on that work permit is similar to Valley United Cultural Club Society, another non-profit registered to Jatinder Gill’s home address, with he and two others recorded as directors. Gill said that organization has nothing to do with the employer mentioned on the permit.
As for Gill not knowing Kapoor, Singh alleges the two were together for almost all his meetings with them.
Meanwhile, he received more bad news recently. He tried to obtain a special, open-ended work permit for “vulnerable” foreign visitors, supporting his application with documents and an affidavit outlining his ordeal. But it was rejected earlier this month, an Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada official noting that Singh already had two work permits. The official said the priest could only work at those organizations, though neither has led to any job.
“Everybody has a dream for their kids,” said Singh. But, he added, “at the moment I just want to feed my kids.”