By Brittany Hobson, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — Mounties have confirmed some of the movements of members of an Indian migrant family who froze to death near the U.S.-Canadian border earlier this year, but said after months of investigating, they are still unsure how they made it to Manitoba.
Officers have travelled across Canada and the United States over the past nine months to conduct interviews and follow up on tips to help track the Patel family’s whereabouts after they arrived in Canada from India, RCMP said.
Sgt. Gary Bird, with RCMP major crime services, is appealing to those who may have seen or helped the family to contact police.
“This should not have happened. Four lives, an entire family, are gone,” he said in a news release Friday.
“We need the people who have information to step forward, so we can find out what happened and hold those involved to account.”
The bodies of Jagdishkumar Patel, 39; his wife Vaishaliben Patel, 37; their 11-year-old daughter, Vihangi; and their three-year-old son, Dharmik, were found on Jan. 19 near Emerson, Man., just metres from the U.S. border. Their deaths were determined to be due to exposure.
Investigators believe the family’s travels from a village in the state of Gujarat in western India to Canada, as well as their attempt to cross the border, were part of a larger human smuggling network.
The family was dropped off near the border in below-freezing temperatures. They were trying to cross into the United States by foot with a larger group when they became separated.
The family first arrived in Canada on Jan. 12 at Toronto Pearson International Airport, police previously reported.
RCMP said Friday that the Patel family arrived in Toronto that day on a flight that left Dubai. From there, the family was picked up by a private vehicle and then stayed at a private accommodation and hotels while in the city.
The family used ride-share apps to travel between the various accommodations, RCMP said.
Investigators believe the family left Toronto shortly before their bodies were discovered, but said they still do not know how they got to Emerson.
RCMP said they have investigated all commercial modes of transportation between the two locations, including air, rail and bus.
Bird said there still remains a gap in the family’s whereabouts from Jan. 15 to when their bodies were discovered four days later.
“We’re confident that people saw and helped the family during this time as they travelled more than 2,000 kilometres from Toronto to Emerson,” Bird said.
“We need these people to come forward and share what they know about the Patel family’s journey within Canada. Even the smallest bit of information could be significant.”
Police also released surveillance video from Toronto’s airport to help generate tips.
Steve Shand of Deltona, Fla., has been charged with human smuggling. U.S. officials allege he is part of an organized human smuggling ring. Court documents say there is evidence he may be linked to three other border crossings since December.
The documents say Shand was driving a van with two Indian nationals just south of the border.
Five others from India were spotted soon after in the snow walking in the direction of the van. They told border officers that they had been walking for more than 11 hours in the cold and that four others had become separated from the group overnight, the court documents say.
One man in the group also said he had paid a large amount of money to get a fake student visa in Canada and was expecting a ride to a relative’s home in Chicago after he crossed the border, the documents say.
Shand’s trial is set to take place on Jan. 9 in Minnesota.