CANADA

A suburban tragedy

Teenage girls are charged in a brutal stabbing death

BRIAN BERGMAN July 24 1995
CANADA

A suburban tragedy

Teenage girls are charged in a brutal stabbing death

BRIAN BERGMAN July 24 1995

A suburban tragedy

CANADA

Teenage girls are charged in a brutal stabbing death

Kulwarn Dhiman came to Canada from his native India in 1987, hoping to make a new life for himself. After settling in Calgary, he worked full-time as a machinist and parttime as a janitor, trying to raise enough money to purchase his own machine shop. In the early morning hours of July 8, after working an evening shift, Dhiman was driving to a video store in northeast Calgary when, according to city police, three teenage girls flagged him down, apparently seeking assistance. The girls allegedly tried to steal Dhiman’s car and, when the 34-year-old amateur wrestler resisted, stabbed him repeatedly.

After they fled, Dhiman drove a short distance before swerving into a ditch. He staggered out of the car and fell onto a manicured suburban lawn, where he bled to death from multiple stab wounds. Last week, police charged two 14-yearold Calgary girls with manslaughter and robbery in connection with Dhiman’s death. A third girl, who is 15, faces robbery charges.

The killing sparked anger and outrage throughout the community. Calgary Mayor Al Duerr called it “an absolutely senseless crime committed upon an innocent and well-meaning victim.”

Newspaper columnists and editorialists agonized over whether a new wave of mindless violence had descended on the city, while a local radio station asked its listeners whether they would still be willing to help someone in distress. (Eighty per cent of those who phoned in said they would.) That the alleged culprits were so young accounted for part of the outcry. But even more troublesome to many was their gender. “You just don’t expect this kind of performance from young girls,” said Supt. Jim Mathews of the Calgary police force’s criminal investigation division.

Mathews called the killing an “an anomaly”—and, in the case of homicides, that is certainly true. According to the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics in Ottawa, 32 of the 35 Canadian juveniles accused of homicide in 1993 were boys, a pattern that has remained relatively constant in recent years. At the same time, however, the numbers of

Canadians aged 12 to 17 who were charged with violent crimes rose from 9,275 in 1986 to 21,471 in 1993—an increase of 131 per cent. The growth in the number of charges against females often matched and in a few cases—such as common assault—exceeded the increase in charges against males.

Dhiman’s brutal death provoked renewed criticism of the 10-year-old Young Offenders Act, which has been widely denounced for prescribing more lenient sentences for younger criminals. Reform MP Art Hanger, who represents Calgary Northeast, the riding where Dhiman lived, noted that the two 14-year-olds charged with manslaughter face a maximum sentence of five years under the Young Offenders Act. By contrast, they could face life imprisonment if they are tried as adults. Hanger, who served for 22 years as a Calgary police officer before being elected in 1993, said that Dhiman’s death shows that many young people, both male and female, no longer fear the law. “It’s a tragedy,” he added, “and it speaks poorly of our society to see this happen.”

At week’s end, Crown prosecutors were still considering whether they would apply to have the charges against the three teenagers transferred to adult court. While it is rare to do so when the accused are so young, many Calgarians plainly believe that is the only way that justice can be served. “A young man has lost his life,” said Deepak Obhrai, who owns a local dry-cleaning outlet and serves as vicepresident of the National Indo-Canadian Council. “The people who committed this crime should be treated as adults so that they get the punishment they deserve.”

Dhiman’s family, meanwhile, struggled to come to grips with the tragedy. “It is hard to accept,” said his brother, Ranjit, 48, who also works as a Calgary machinist. “He was a quiet guy, worked every day. There was no violence ever in his life, even back home in the Punjab.” Echoing the sentiments of many Calgarians last week, Ranjit Dhiman then added: “Nobody believes young girls could do such a thing.”

BRIAN BERGMAN

JOHN HOWSE

in Calgary