Two men are facing a raft of charges, including human trafficking, in the deaths of four members of the same family who froze while trying to cross from Canada into the United States almost a year ago, police in India said Monday.
The pair was arrested Sunday and other suspects are wanted in Canada and the U.S., said Deputy Commissioner Chaitanya Mandlik of the Ahmedabad crime branch in the state of Gujarat.
The two men are accused of acting as immigration agents, supplying the family members paperwork and helping them get to the U.S., he said in an interview, adding they face charges of culpable homicide not amounting to murder, attempt at culpable homicide, human trafficking and criminal conspiracy.
“We are in touch with the Canadian Embassy,” said Mandlik. “We are in need of some documents. We need official death certificates. We will need an official post-mortem report. We will try for extradition of these two persons (working in Canada).”
Jagdish Baldevbhai Patel, who was 39, was found dead along with his wife and two children on Jan. 19, 2022, near a border crossing between Manitoba and the United States.
Jagdish Baldevbhai Patel’s wife was 37-year-old Vaishaliben Jagdishkumar Patel. Their daughter, Vihangi Jagdishkumar Patel, was 11 years old and their son, Dharmik Jagdishkumar Patel, was three.
Mandlik said the investigation, which began following a tip about eight months ago, showed people in Canada and the United States co-ordinated with agents in India. Police made use of human intelligence and technical surveillance to gather evidence, he added.
The people arrested have others working for them who scout potential immigrants and hand them off to so-called “main-agents,” who connect with other members of their network in Canada and then the U.S., said Mandlik.
“The agent arranges for tickets, visa stay and transport in Canada, and (people who help them cross),” he said. “Sometimes documents are faked. Case to case is different.”
A person wanting to go to the U.S. contacts one of the agents, who begins the paperwork and tells the potential immigrant to be ready with their belongings on a certain date, he said. The would-be immigrant is also given a travel route, he said.
“The person is handed a ticket and papers at the airport.”
In the case of the Patels, Mandlik said the family travelled to Dubai from Gujarat. From there, they were taken to Toronto, Vancouver and then Manitoba, he said.
“Two agents drove a car from Vancouver to Manitoba,” he said.
Mandlik added that Vancouver is the preferred place to cross the border because of its mild weather.
The Manitoba RCMP said in a statement Monday that there’s no evidence to suggest the Patel family travelled to Vancouver.
“Our investigation to date indicates that the Patel family arrived in Canada at Toronto Pearson International Airport, on January 12, 2022. They arrived in Toronto via an international flight from Dubai, United Arab Emirates,” Cpl. Julie Courchaine said in an e-mail.
“The RCMP continues to work with international law enforcement partners to advance the investigation into the deaths of the Patel family near Emerson, Manitoba.”
Mandlik said It cost the Patel family about $75,000 per person for the entire process, from India to the U.S., including arranging for their visas, accommodations, transportation, food and border crossings.
Getting across the border from Manitoba cost the family a total of $7,500, a cheaper option than the $11,000 it would have cost crossing from Vancouver, Mandlik said.
The investigation so far has showed that the Patels landed in Canada on a visitor visa, he said.
“We are checking if the visitor visa was real, if the documents and (associated) certificates were real,” he said.
The other seven immigrants in the group the Patels were travelling with had student visas but no admission to a college or university, he said.
The Patels initially hesitated about crossing the border in the cold but wanted that “American dream” so badly that they agreed to walk when they were told that stormy conditions were an ideal cover to go across undetected into the U.S., Mandlik said.
“They were told it was their best opportunity and last chance to cross into the U.S. or else return to India or stay back in Canada,” he said of the instructions given to the family. “You have to walk in -35 C to evade arrest by Canadian or U.S. security agencies. Follow the lights of an American gas station because you will find no navigation available in the dark and extreme weather.”
Mandlik called the deaths of the children and the parents heartbreaking.
“We want to investigate properly and just give justice to that bereaved family.”
With files from Steve Lambert in Winnipeg.