Days after a family of four Indians from Gujarat was found dead near the Canada/US border, Canadian authorities are investigating how they travelled to the border after arriving in Toronto and is asking people to think about what they "went through" and share any information they may have to help with the probe.
Jagdish Baldevbhai Patel, 39, Vaishaliben Jagdishkumar Patel, 37, Vihangi Jagdishkumar Patel, 11 and Dharmik Jagdishkumar Patel, 3, all from the same family and Indian nationals, were found frozen to death near Emerson, Manitoba, approximately 12 metres from the Canada/US border on January 19 by Manitoba Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Earlier, authorities had said that the family included an adult male, adult female, teen male and infant. But it is now revealed the victims included a young girl and not a teen male.
“Initially, we had identified one of the victims as a male teen. We apologise for that error but please understand that the frozen state in which the bodies were found and the clothing worn by the family made the initial identification difficult. It is also why the process to confirm the names took an extended period of time,” Chief Superintendent Rob Hill, Officer in Charge of Criminal Operations for the Manitoba Royal Canadian Mounted Police said in a statement.
Hill said that the Patel family arrived in Toronto on January 12, 2022, their first point of entry into Canada.
From Toronto, the family made their way to Manitoba and eventually to Emerson around January 18, a day before they tragically died near the border due to exposure to extreme weather conditions.
Hill said there was no abandoned vehicle located on the Canadian side of the border, clearly indicating that someone drove the family to the border and then left the scene.
“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 said, adding that officers with Canada's Major Crime Services and Federal Policing are looking at every aspect of their journey, including their travel from Toronto on January 12 to Emerson around January 18.
“This is an extended period of time for a family who is unfamiliar with Canada to be travelling across the country. A part of the investigation is determining whether this travel was facilitated in some way by an individual or individuals.
“It is our belief that people had interactions with the Patel family during their stay in Canada. This can include hotel, gas station or restaurant employees,” Hill said.
Hill asked anyone who had interactions with the Patel family or has “information about their journey to the border to think about what they went through and to step forward” and share that information with authorities.
“Any information about their time in Canada will be incredibly helpful to our investigators. This will be a lengthy international investigation. We are looking at months and months of work ahead of us but our officers are determined to find out exactly how this tragedy occurred,” Hill said.
The RCMP has started an extensive investigation as to how the Patel family made their way to Canada and, ultimately, to Emerson.
“This investigation is complex as it involves work at the provincial, national and international level,” Hill said.
Hill said his department is also working closely with RCMP Liaison Officers who are stationed in New Delhi and Washington, D.C. and is in regular contact with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Homeland Security Investigations.
Officials are also speaking regularly with Indian consular officials who arrived in Winnipeg on Saturday.
“I want to extend my thanks to them for assisting us with the next of kin notifications,” he said.