Ranjit Cheema gunned down

After serving a five-year sentence in California, former Surrey man shot in Vancouver

Scene of a shooting in Vancouver on Wednesday morning.

Scene of a shooting in Vancouver on Wednesday morning.

A man at the centre of a political controversy in Surrey four years ago has been shot dead in Vancouver.

Witnesses say Ranjit Singh Cheema was gunned down in an an apparent drive-by shooting near his parents’ home in East Vancouver Wednesday morning.

At Black Press deadline, Vancouver police had not confirmed the identity of the victim.

Cheema was a known associate of Bindy Johal, a notorious gangster who was shot to death in December, 1998.

Cheema had only recently returned from the U.S., where he served a five-year jail term for drug trafficking.

In 2008, Sukh Dhaliwal, then-Liberal MP for Newton-North Delta, made headlines when he wrote a letter of support for Cheema to California District Judge Stephen Wilson urging him to give Cheema a chance at rehabilitation.

Dhaliwal described Cheema as a man who would one day return to his family in Canada and seemed committed to rehabilitation.

“I personally believe, along with tougher laws, rehabilitation is fundamentally essential to make our society, our country, and our planet a better place to live,” Dhaliwal wrote in the letter on Government of Canada letterhead. “I have no doubt that if he (Cheema) is given support and direction, he will be a strong, active member of his community in years to come.”

Despite the support, Cheema was sentenced in California to five years in prison for conspiring to smuggle 200 kilograms of heroin from Pakistan to North America in 1998.

Dhaliwal, when confronted about the correspondence in the middle of a re-election campaign, regretted not having called police before writing the letter.

@diakiw