As friends of Charnjit Bassi streamed in and out of his Brampton home Saturday evening, they turned to each other with questions about what could have led a man they knew to be mild-mannered to allegedly open fire in a Brampton courthouse in a shootout that ended in Mr. Bassi’s death.
Mr. Bassi was a man whose already calm temperament had mellowed further in the last year and a half after he became deeply religious, say friends who knew him for more than two decades. They could not understand how a man who often spoke about God, who had given up meat and alcohol for religious reasons, could shoot a cop, as police allege he did last Friday. Mr. Bassi was not facing any criminal proceeding in court that day.
But the mysteries surrounding Mr. Bassi go beyond Friday’s violent exchange, which put the Brampton courthouse in lock-down for several hours and left Peel Regional Police Constable Mike Klarenbeek with a wound to his abdomen. Mr. Bassi’s close friends say they had no knowledge of his previous run-ins with the law, or even what their pal did for a living.
Mr. Bassi has had multiple criminal charges in the past, which had previously been withdrawn. Brampton courts would not release those documents or those related to Mr. Bassi’s divorce on Monday. The Mississauga News reported Mr. Bassi had been previously charged with aggravated assault, weapons offences, credit card fraud and conspiracy to commit an indictable offence.
“I don’t know what happened or why. I don’t know how he ended up that way. It’s a very sad thing,” said Jaswinder Khosa, 43, who met Mr. Bassi in the late 1980s when they were high school students, just after the two had immigrated to Canada from India.
Mr. Khosa said he met with his friend every few weeks and their conversations were about what was going on in the Punjabi community, or how Mr. Bassi missed his ex-wife and daughter. But the recent ones had also carried strong religious overtones.
“In the last year and a half he’s been too religious,” Mr. Khosa said. He explained his friend always brought prayer into their conversations. Their most recent meet-up was in February, just before Mr. Khosa set off for a trip to India.
“He said if you go there, go bring these religious cassettes for me. Listen to these priests,” Mr. Khosa said. “He totally had changed.”
But he said this wasn’t a bad thing: religion seemed to help his friend deal with life’s challenges and Mr. Bassi only spoke about being sad about his divorce, never angry or aggravated. He remembers Mr. Bassi got married about a decade ago, after he had spent a few years living with his then-girlfriend. After the couple split in 2009, Mr. Bassi’s ex-wife moved to a house down the street and neighbours say they often saw the couple’s young daughter moving between the two homes. On the weekend, neighbours described him as “peaceful” and “a family person.”
“I was surprised to hear that he’d shoot somebody, all my friends are saying the same thing,” said Amarjit Sangha, who had known Mr. Bassi for more than 20 years. “I’ve never seen him angry or I’ve never seen him swearing at somebody.”
“My sister went to their home and they were talking [about how] he doesn’t drink, he doesn’t eat meat,” Mr. Sangha said. “He became a very religious person recently.”
When his sister, along with about 20 others who were close to the Bassi family, attended the family home on Saturday night after learning of Mr. Bassi’s death, she learned Mr. Bassi had been following the teachings of a guru back home in India and had converted one room in his home into a shrine for the guru.
While Mr. Bassi seemed eager to share his religious views with friends, he held back on many personal details.
Neither Mr. Khosa, Mr. Sangha or Jassa Bhogal, another friend of Mr. Bassi’s, said they knew of any criminal charges or convictions in Mr. Bassi’s past, or even his employment history.
“We never asked what he [did]. He told me a couple years back, three to four years, he wanted to open up a trucking company,” Mr. Khosa said. He did not know if the venture was ever pursued. Neighbours also said they weren’t aware of his occupation.
On Monday evening, Mr. Bassi’s brother’s home, where his mother has been staying, appeared to be filled with friends and family members who were mourning Mr. Bassi. Mr. Khosa said the family had been making funeral arrangements on the weekend and as of Monday afternoon were waiting for the police to release Mr. Bassi’s body to his family.
“This is a very tough situation. What can you tell [them]? ‘Your relative, your son or your brother got killed,’” Mr. Khosa said. “It’s not something that anybody thinks their kids will go that way.”
With a report from Ann Hui.
Editor's note: A previous version of this article said incorrectly that Charnjit Bassi had multiple criminal convictions. If fact, Mr. Bassi had multiple criminal charges, which previously had been withdrawn.