Indian authorities aim to have Canadians sent to face charges in border deaths

·4 min read

Indian authorities have started the process to have two Canadians extradited to face charges after four members of the same family froze to death in southern Manitoba while trying to cross into the United States, says a police officer.

Chaitanya Mandlik, deputy commissioner of police for Ahmedabad's crime branch in the state of Gujarat, said authorities are looking to send Vancouver residents Fenil Patel and Bitta Singh, who also goes by Bittu Paji, to face charges in India.

"We need to interview them and we need to get some more information," he told The Canadian Press.

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said Wednesday extradition requests are "confidential state-to-state communications."

"We cannot confirm or deny the existence of a potential request until made public by the courts," Ian McLeod said in an email.

Canadian authorities found the bodies of a couple and their two children metres from the United States border on Jan. 19, 2022.

Thirty-nine-year-old Jagdish Patel, his 37-year-old wife Vaishaliben, their 11-year-old daughter Vihangi and three-year-old son Dharmik were found frozen to death near Emerson, Man.

Investigators have said they believe the deaths were linked to a human smuggling operation.

Police in India arrested Dashrath Chaudhary, Yogesh Patel and Bhavesh Patel earlier this year and charged them with culpable homicide not amounting to murder, attempting culpable homicide, human trafficking and criminal conspiracy, which means they could face life in prison.

Mandlik said Fenil Patel and Singh would face similar charges.

"They're very serious charges," he said.

It's alleged Chaudhary, Yogesh Patel and Bhavesh Patel arranged for the family to land in Canada on a tourist visa. Fenil Patel and Singhallegedly took over planning and logistical support to help them cross into the United States, Mandlik said.

Canada has extradition treaties with dozens of countries across the globe, including India. But there have been few cases of people from Canada being extradited there, said one expert.

"There are a number of concerns around extradition to India because the justice system has a number of problems," said Robert Currie, a professor in the faculty of law at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

"There's a lot of abuse, torture and sexual assault in Indian prisons, and the government really doesn't have a handle on most of it."

If justice officials approve proceedings, an extradition hearing would take place before a judge in the province where the accused reside. The final decision to surrender would be made by the federal justice minister. Extradition processes on average can take anywhere from 18 months to three years, said Currie.

In some cases, the accused may waive an extradition hearing, which Currie said happens because it's difficult to challenge an extradition in Canada.

If authorities go ahead with pursuing extradition, questions around jurisdiction come into play, said Currie.

"When are countries entitled to prosecute people for things that happened outside their country?"

Two RCMP officers visited Gujarat in March to gather information on the alleged human smuggling network, said Mandlik.

He added his team plans to come to Canada before the end of the year to further investigate.

"We have asked for a few things from (the RCMP). We are still waiting for that information," Mandlik said. "We have asked for the IP addresses from where the (tourist) application was filled and a few details about Fenil Patel and Bitta Singh."

Once the Indian authorities get that information, he said supplemental charges will be filed.

It could take up to the end of the summer or early fall to get that information, he added.

"We are confident the Canadian authorities will give us that information," he said. "We will make sure that they get deported."

RCMP in Manitoba would not comment on investigational steps being taken by other police agencies in other countries.

"The RCMP continues to work closely with its international law enforcement partners in the United States and abroad to advance the investigations into the deaths of the Patel family," spokesman Robert Cyrenne said in an email.

Communications for RCMP headquarters would not comment on the investigation.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 11, 2023.

Hina Alam and Brittany Hobson, The Canadian Press