Bindy Johal: A Criminal to Most, a Folk Hero to Many

The Vancouver-based Punjabi gangster shed light on the darker side of the Indo-Canadian dream.

Michaela Stone Cross

October 5, 2020

Bindy Johal: A Criminal to Most, a Folk Hero to Many
Bindy Johal.

At 4:30 a.m. at the Palladium nightclub in Vancouver, British Columbia, Bindy Johal was shot dead. It was 1998, just a few years after Johal had founded The Punjabi Mafia, a fancy name for a small-time gang that did the dirty work of more established organizations like the Hells Angels and the Triads. The killer approached Johal on the dance floor, shooting him in the back of his head at close range. Rumor had it that the gunman was one of Johal’s men, but it would stay a rumor, since not one of the 350 people in the club would describe the assailant’s face. 

Death at 27 ensured Johal’s immortality. During his life, he’d been a fixture on mainstream media, performing for the cameras, giving TV reporters flashy quips. Particularly famous was the clip of Johal threatening a rival before speeding away in a sexy red car. “I just want these guys to know you got another thing coming, bitch,” he says, with a noticeable Canadian accent. “I’m still around.” These words — ‘I’m still around’ — became Johal’s tagline, a phrase still posted on social media decades after his murder. Death made Johal a legend, particularly among many young Punjabi Canadian men.

Racial discrimination in Canada

For South Asians, particularly Punjabis, immigration to Canada has largely been a story of success. Punjabi is now the third-most widely spoken language in the country, and the community has amassed visibility, wealth, and political power. There are currently more Sikh representatives in the Canadian House of Commons than in the Indian Lok Sabha. And dastars are common — even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau occasionally dons a turban (although sometimes while doing brownface).