Canadian law enforcement has formally identified the four Indian nationals who died from exposure to extreme cold near the United States border on January 19 in an apparent human smuggling operation gone wrong.
Manitoba Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) has identified them as 39-year-old Jagdishkumar Baldevbhai Patel, his wife 37-year-old Vaishaliben Jagdishkumar Patel, their daughter 11-year-old Vihangi Jagdishkumar Patel, and son, three-year-old Dharmik Jagdishkumar Patel.
All of them are from Gujarat. The autopsy conducted confirmed that “based on the circumstances, the death of all the persons have been determined to be consistent with exposure to the outdoor elements”.
This information was conveyed to the Indian government on Thursday. Next of kin of the deceased have been informed and the consulate general of India in Toronto is in touch with the family of the deceased and is providing consular support, according to a release from India’s High Commission in Ottawa.
Manitoba RCMP has also launched an investigation into how the family reached Canada and ultimately Emerson, a town near the border.
In a statement, chief superintendent Rob Hill, Manitoba RCMP’s office in charge of criminal operations, said that the Patel family arrived in Toronto on January 12 and this was their first point of entry into Canada. From Toronto, the family made their way to Manitoba and eventually to Emerson on, or about, January 18.
“There was no abandoned vehicle located on the Canadian side of the border – this clearly indicates that someone drove the family to the border and then left the scene,” he said.
“With what we know so far of their activities in Canada, along with the arrest that occurred in the United States, we believe this to be a case of human smuggling,” he stressed.
Manitoba RCMP is working closely with RCMP liaison officers stationed in New Delhi, India, and Washington, and are in regular contact with the US Customs and Border Protection and Homeland Security Investigations.
He apologised for the initial identification of one of the victims as a male teen and said the error was due to “the frozen state in which the bodies were found and the clothing worn by the family made the initial identification difficult”.
The High Commission’s statement noted that on “longer term issues that this tragedy has brought into focus the need to ensure that migration and mobility are made safe and legal and that such tragedies do not recur”.
A number of ideas are under discussion between India and Canada in this context, including India’s proposal of a comprehensive Migration and Mobility Partnership Agreement (MMPA) to Canada, so as to “prevent and suppress irregular migration, smuggling of migrants and trafficking in human being and to facilitate sustainable and circular mobility”. The matter remains under consideration with Canada.
A special team from India’s consulate in Toronto is camping in Manitoba “to assist ongoing investigations by Canadian agencies and to render any consular services for the victims”, the statement added.
The Office of the Medical Examiner is in possession of the deceased persons and will coordinate with Indian officials for the release of the bodies to their next of kin. Thereafter, arrangements will be made for transport of the remains back to India.
The bodies of the four victims were found just about 10km from the American border and they may have succumbed due to a human smuggling operation gone wrong.
Seven other Indian nationals, linked to the tragic quartet found dead on the Canadian side of the border, were apprehended in the United States. One person, a 47-year-old resident of Florida Steve Shand was arrested by US authorities (though later released on bail) for allegedly “smuggling undocumented foreign nationals”.
Last Wednesday morning, Manitoba RCMP received “concerning information” from their counterparts that the US Customs and Border Protection (USCBP) had apprehended a group of individuals who had crossed into the US from Canada, near the town of Emerson in Manitoba.
A search began and four hours later, at about 1.30pm, RCMP officers found the bodies of three individuals were located on the Canadian side of the border, close to Emerson.