Searching for a killer’s motive

by Sue Montgomery

In the immediate aftermath of the Dawson College shooting, I noticed a trend emerging in the media to paint the killer, Kimveer Gill, as evil, a sinister character dressed in black with no empathy, and the one person he killed, Anastasia De Sousa, as a symbol of goodness, whose favourite colour was pink and who could do no wrong. I felt the portrayals too simplistic – not that I in any way condoned what Gill did nor felt Anastasia or her family deserved to be victims of such a random act of violence.

But I felt this need to find out more, especially about Gill, since there had been plenty of coverage of his victims. Perhaps this need stems from a personal experience. When I was in Grade 9 in Ontario, a Grade 11 student shot and killed a teacher, a student and himself. He also seriously injured 11 others, in what was the first school shooting in Canada. What disturbed me then was that the killer, Michael Slobodian, was a person I had had a crush on from afar. He was cute, and the fact he carried a guitar case made him seem attractively artsy. I had no idea how disturbed he was.

The Dawson shooting, and every school shooting since, brings back that May 28, 1975, day to me, and I want to know why. What drives a seemingly normal person to behave in such an irrational way? After discussing it with my editor, Catherine Wallace, I was given the mandate to take as much time as needed to find out as much as possible about Gill.

It took weeks to gain the trust of Gill’s mother, Parvinder Gill, which I managed to do with the help of a mutual friend. Gill’s mother and I spent hours together in their neat Laval home, going over family photos, Gill’s report cards and school awards —  all in an attempt to perhaps answer the question why? As any mother would be, Parvinder Gill is distraught, horrified by what her son did, and deeply mourning the death of her eldest. Unfortunately, and frustrating for me as a reporter, the woman’s twin sons and husband refused repeatedly to speak to me.  None of them felt our readers would believe anything they said. I still believed that it would have been helpful, though, to have their views on Gill.

Over a period of about six months, I managed to reach a former work colleague of Gill’s, a pen pal living in Germany, several former teachers and a number of friends, one of whom was living in Poland. All painted a far different picture of him than the media did after the shooting. While very quiet, Gill never showed any signs of having a violent side. If anything, they said, he was too sensitive.

I also conducted several interviews with Rajiv Rajan, a family friend who was charged after the shooting for sending an e-mail in which he praised the actions of Gill.  Rajan was found criminally not responsible for his acts. The first time we spoke, he was in the Phillipe-Pinel Institute in Montreal.

The final story — “Who was Kimveer Gill?” — came in at 7,000 words, and I was terrified my editors were going to tell me to cut it in half. But they didn’t.

The story never answered the question why, but I think it was a far more accurate portrayal of an obviously depressed young man. My goal was not to diminish in any way Gill’s responsibility for what he did but rather to try to shed some light. How else are we to prevent such tragedies in the future?

Reaction to the story was mixed, with some people telling us that we shouldn’t waste so much space on a killer. Understandably, Dawson students were among those to have this opinion. Other readers, however, thanked me for trying to portray Gill as the person he was, with a loving family.

The story, as far as I’m concerned is still not over and questions remain:  For example, why, almost 18 months after the shooting, has the coroner still not released her report? Given the discrepancy between what Parvinder Gill believes and what the police have said, the public needs to see this report. Gill’s mother says her son had a bullet wound on his arm (where the police shot him) and one in the back of his head, leading her to suspect the police may have killed him. The police say Gill shot himself by placing a gun to his chin, yet Parvinder Gill says his face was intact when they prepared him for burial. What really happened? Why can we not see the surveillance camera tapes from inside the school that day? And why, if it was a crime scene, did the police drag Gill’s body outside to lie in the rain?

People argue that if the police shot him, so what? He was a cold-blooded killer. But if the police had already disabled Gill by shooting him in the arm, there would be no reason to shoot him execution style, if, in fact, that’s what happened.

Read “Who Was Kimveer Gill?”
Part I
Part II
Part III