One minute, there was a peaceful public meeting in a teeming Brampton temple.
The next, fists were flying and knives were drawn as the gathering to elect leaders of the Sri Guru Nanak Sikh Centre descended into bloody chaos.
In the wake of the second such outbreak of violence in as many weeks, some prominent members of Brampton's Sikh community are wondering whether it's time to ramp up security in temples they fear are becoming sites of internecine violence.
Organizers of Sunday's meeting expected trouble: They had called Peel Police days earlier, asking for backup just in case. Eight officers were stationed outside the temple, or gurdwara, by the time Prit Pal Singh took a break from building floats for next week's Khalsa Day parade and went inside to grab some lunch. Police say they didn't see anyone potentially threatening or disruptive enter the temple.
It was on his way out, negotiating the crowded narrow hallway near the entrance, that Mr. Singh saw them: about 10 men, bearing knives and hammers, heading for the room where the meeting was wrapping up. Witnesses later said it looked like the men had grabbed the weapons from a construction site nearby.
"Next thing I know, they start hitting this guy on the head. I just tried to stop it. … They just piled on me."
And all of a sudden, he says, he was being pummelled from all ends. His turban was unravelled and fell to the ground, his forehead was sliced open, his arm and back were battered. He was rushed to the hospital with several others.
Three men have been charged with assault, assault with a weapon and possession of weapons for a dangerous purpose. Peel Police say they're searching for one more suspect and an investigation is ongoing.
But this never should have happened in the first place, says Rampal Singh Dhillon, who organized and mediated the meeting.
"I would prefer to have a law-enforcement officer to be there, to see if things arise," he said. "If they had been in the room when the meeting started, nothing would have happened."
Constable Wayne Patterson said that's a possibility that would have to be worked out with gurdwara leaders. He said officers are happy to help keep the peace, but an ongoing security presence would likely require paid duty officers at the cost of about $60 an hour.
Harvinder Pal Dhaliwal, 41, is charged with assault; Tehal Shergill, 60, is charged with possession of a weapon for dangerous purpose, two counts of assault causing bodily harm and assault with a weapon; Satwant Deol, 25, has been charged with possession of a weapon for dangerous purpose and assault with a weapon.
Prit Pal Singh was released from hospital Sunday evening. The Vaughan resident says he never meant to get involved. Now he's worried about the effect the violence will have on the community.
"People are generalizing: They're saying Sikhs are like this, they're just militant people fighting with each other," he said. "It defeats the whole purpose of the gurdwara - it's supposed to be a place of peace."