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Identities of Indian family of four found frozen near Canada border confirmed


U.S. officials said they are working with Canadian authorities to investigate the organized cross-border smuggling ring. The RCMP would not specifically acknowledge the smuggling probe

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India’s diplomats in Ottawa have confirmed the identities and cause of death of four people found dead in Manitoba near the U.S. border last week, victims of an apparent organized illegal people smuggling ring perilously undertaken during a bitterly cold blizzard.

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The family of four Indian citizens found frozen, while seven other border crossers were arrested on the United States side of the remote borderland, are now formally identified as Jagdish Baldevbhai Patel, 39, Vaishaliben Jagdishkumar Patel, 37, Vihangi Jagdishkumar Patel, 11, and Dharmik Jagdishkumar Patel, 3.

Family and friend in India’s Gujarat state h ave described them as a husband and wife and their two children, the toddler as their son and the older child as their daughter. The father worked as a teacher and farmed land the family owned, relatives said.

“The next of kin of the deceased have been informed. The Consulate General of India in Toronto is in touch with the family of the deceased and is providing all consular support. The High Commission offers its sincere condolences to the family and friends of the victims,” said Chellappan Gurusubramanian, First Secretary at the High Commission of India in Ottawa, in a written statement.

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“Canadian authorities have also, after medical examination, informed that based on the circumstances, the death of all the persons have been determined to be consistent with exposure to the outdoor elements.”

The Patel family comprised both the two oldest and two youngest members of a group of 11 Indians who were dropped off near Emerson, Man., on Jan. 18, for the organized illegal crossing , according to U.S. officials.

The conditions during a prairie blizzard at night were extremely dangerous. The temperature hovered around -35C with blowing snow and bleak darkness along a remote route they were unfamiliar with.

Seven made it to safety after more than 11 hours of walking. The Patel family, however, were separated from the group and didn’t even make it out of Canada.

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They were found just metres inside the border.

“There is an unreasonable expectation for survival at that point,” said Chief Patrol Agent Anthony S. Good, of the U.S. Border Patrol’s Grand Forks Sector, whose officers rescued the survivors on Jan. 19 after they walked in the blizzard for more than 11 hours.

U.S. officials said they are working with Canadian authorities to investigate the organized cross-border smuggling ring. The RCMP would not specifically acknowledge the smuggling probe but said everything is being examined in the case.

The RCMP has not yet formally announced the identification and cause of death of the four people.

India’s diplomats are working with the RCMP “on all aspects of the investigation into this incident,” Gurusubramanian said.

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Steve Shand, 47, of Deltona, Fla., was arrested in the morning on Jan. 19, on the U.S. side of the border, hours before the frozen bodies were found. He was driving a van with two Indian nationals inside, U.S. court document say. Five other Indian citizens from the same group were found walking nearby. Two needed medical assistance and survived.

Shand is facing federal human smuggling charges in Minnesota. On Monday, Shand was ordered released from jail until his trial.

An online prayer service for the Patel family was held Monday by more than 100 ex-pats from Gujarat in Canada, organized by Hemant Shah in Winnipeg.

A diplomatic team from the Indian government, led by a senior consular officer based in Toronto, is in Manitoba to assist the investigations and to render any consular services for the victims, Gurusubramanian said.

He said Canadian and Indian officials need to have wider and longer term discussions on migration issues, “to ensure that migration and mobility are made safe and legal and that such tragedies do not recur.”

India has proposed a comprehensive Migration and Mobility Partnership Agreement to Canada, he said.

• Email: ahumphreys@postmedia.com | Twitter:

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