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ZYTARUK: Voice from the past found light in darkness

Surrey man horrifically stabbed in 1996 shares what he’s learned about life
Amanjit Pannu reflecting on his ‘second life’ after horrific 1996 stabbing in Surrey. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)

This has got to be the daddy – if not granddaddy – of follow-up stories. Last week while purging stuff from my filing cabinet I came across a clipping of a story I wrote in 1998 about Amanjit Pannu, a Surrey 7-Eleven clerk who was gruesomely attacked with a large hunting knife and how, with the flash of that blade, his life changed forever.

I tucked the clipping back into its folder and was thinking about how he learned to forgive, if not to forget, when my phone rang.

Guess who.


The bottom of my jaw nearly dropped to my desk. Hyperbole of course. But it might as well have. I hadn’t heard from this fellow in 26 years and the timing was beyond – I mean galactically beyond – uncanny.

The story’s headline was “Amanjit’s second life.” I determined to find out how life has been treating him since then.

During our first interview, nearly three decades ago, rain streamed down the window pane as Pannu, then 29, stared out of a local coffee shop, recalling how he didn’t want to go out alone during the first year after the attack.

“I was feeling hunted,” he said flatly. “This is going to be with me a long time.”

Before he was stabbed, Pannu was stocking shelves at a 7-Eleven that used to be near 96 Avenue and Scott Road. It was shortly before 3 a.m. on Sept. 8, 1996. He’d had the job only two weeks and was thinking how to spend his first cheque when the door swung open.

The robber ran at him and, without a word, began stabbing. The sheer banality of the crime stupefied even the most seasoned Surrey RCMP investigators. Pannu was stabbed eight times with a seven-inch blade, in the back, chest, shoulder – twice in the stomach – and in the right palm and thumb. And all for $30, eleven packs of smokes, a handful of lighters and some gum.

The robber was sentenced in April 1998, but Pannu didn’t really care what happened to the guy – he had his own pain and nightmares to contend with.

He actually forgave him in court, despite the attacker’s appalling lack of remorse.

Our latest interview was also at a coffee shop. This time the sun was shining. It was a day before Pannu’s 56th birthday, and he was in excellent spirits, proud to share about the success of his daughters age 24, and 19.

His oldest daughter completed a Masters degree in Dental Hygiene and is a clinical instructor at a college as well as a full-time dental hygienist. His youngest earned a Bachelors degree in Health Science last year, as well as a diploma in dental hygiene, and a Certificate in Health Science the year before that. She’s also working full-time as a dental hygienist.

Pannu’s an accountant and financial advisor at a firm handling RRSPs and TFSAs, mortgage protection, travel insurance, disability insurance, critical insurance and life insurance.

We shared an aphotic giggle about that last one.

After the attack, Pannu worked with 7-Eleven as a store manager and was married in 1999. He became a truck driver, earned a Bachelor of Commerce degree.

But what about his injuries? “I’m fine,” he says, flexing his muscles and lifting imaginary weights.

His last operation, for his hand, was in 2001. He’d long before underwent surgery for a stab wound that penetrated his lung, an emergency laparotomy to repair a cut bowel, and doctors repaired a four-inch-deep laceration on his upper abdomen and irrigated and sutured a stab wound in his back. They also operated on his arms and hands, to repair severed tendons, muscles and an artery.

Despite what happened to him, Pannu maintains “when you think about our whole world, Canada is one of the best countries to live. Ample opportunities, regardless of your age, your religion, your colour, wherever you come from. Every person has a moral and ethical duty to be fair to himself, herself, to do good for society and be productive.

“You are unique on the earth, you will leave your legacy yourself. Nobody else will create it for you, right?” That’s what he told his children.

Someone handed him a Bible, and he was “struck” by the story of the Good Samaritan. “The disciple asked Jesus who should I help? Jesus said help your neighbours.”

“I think this should be the philosophy of everyone, not just mine.”

In his case, he says, he was the guy who needed help and the police who came to his rescue in 1996 were his Good Samaritans.

“I want to be a Good Samaritan too,” Pannu said. “I can sit around and beat the bushes about what happened in the past, no point in that. I think everyone needs, has to contribute to society. That’s how it’s supposed to be.”

Amanjit Pannu reflecting on his ‘second life’ after horrific 1996 stabbing in Surrey. (Photo: Anna Burns)

About the Author: Tom Zytaruk

I write unvarnished opinion columns and unbiased news reports for the Surrey Now-Leader.
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