New York: A family of four Indian nationals found frozen to death near the Canada/US border has been identified, with Canadian authorities saying the family had moved around the country for a period of time and was driven to the border by someone in a case being described as that of human smuggling.
Jagdish Baldevbhai Patel, 39, Vaishaliben Jagdishkumar Patel, 37, Vihangi Jagdishkumar Patel, 11 and Dharmik Jagdishkumar Patel, 3, all from the same family, were found dead near Emerson, Manitoba, approximately 12 metres from the Canada/US border on January 19 by Manitoba Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Identities of the victims were confirmed by Canadian authorities and autopsies were completed on January 26.
The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of Manitoba has confirmed that the cause of death was due to exposure, a statement from Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) said on Thursday.
India's High Commission in Ottawa, Canada said in a press release, which also identified the four victims, that the next of family of the victims have been informed.
The Consulate General of India in Toronto is in touch with the family of the victims and is providing all consular support.
“The High Commission offers its sincere condolences to the family and friends of the victims,” it said.
The RCMP confirmed that the Patel family arrived in Toronto on January 12, 2022 and from there they made their way to Emerson around January 18.
“There was no abandoned vehicle located on the Canadian side of the border. This indicates that someone drove the family to the border and then left the scene,” RCMP said adding that it is looking to determine how they travelled from Toronto to Emerson.
“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,” it said.
RCMP said the Patel family moved around Canada for a period of time and “we are looking for anyone that may have had encounters with them.” A criminal complaint was filed last week in the US District Court for the District of Minnesota against 47-year old US citizen Steve Shand, who has been charged with human smuggling.
Shand, a “suspected smuggler of undocumented foreign nationals” was arrested by American authorities near the US/Canadian border on January 19 for transporting two Indian nationals, who were illegally present in the US.
The two Indian nationals have been identified as ‘SP' and ‘YP' in the complaint. A group of five Indian nationals “illegally present in the United States were also identified and arrested” around the time of Shand's arrest.
The day Shand was arrested, US Border Patrol authorities had received a report from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police that bodies of the Patel family were found frozen just inside the Canadian side of the international border. Shand has been released from a prison conditionally and without paying a bond.
Following the discovery of the bodies, an extensive investigation was immediately launched and the Manitoba RCMP, including officers from Emerson RCMP Detachment, the Integrated Border Enforcement Team (IBET) and Major Crime Services, worked in close collaboration with US Customs and Border Protection and the US Department of Homeland Security.
The RCMP has also been working closely with RCMP Liaison Officers in New Delhi, India and Washington, DC, and have been in regular contact with Indian consular officials, RCMP said. The Indian High Commission and India's Consulate in Toronto are working closely with Canadian authorities on all aspects of the investigation into this incident.
A special team, led by a senior consular officer from the Consulate General of India in Toronto, is camping in Manitoba to assist ongoing investigations by Canadian agencies and to render any consular services for the victims, the High Commission said.
The High Commission said the tragedy has highlighted the issues of safe and legal migration as Canada is a preferred destination for Indian immigrants and students.
“On longer term issues that this tragedy has brought into focus (is) the need to ensure that migration and mobility are made safe and legal and that such tragedies do not recur,” the High Commission said adding that a number of ideas remain under discussion between India and Canada.
In order to prevent and suppress irregular migration, smuggling of migrants and trafficking in human being and to facilitate sustainable and circular mobility, India has proposed a comprehensive Migration and Mobility Partnership Agreement (MMPA) to Canada, which remains under the consideration of the Canadian government.
“People-to-people relations are an important pillar of India-Canada bilateral relations. Canada is a preferred destination for Indian immigrants and students. India and Canada work together to ensure the safety and well-being of all Indian immigrants into Canada. The two countries have a regular consular dialogue which takes up issues related to migration and welfare of citizens in each other's territories,” the High Commission said.