Gujarati family that froze to death on Canada-US border identified

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A Gujarati family froze to death in minus 35 degrees temperatures on January 19 near the town of Emerson in Canada. The family of four were trying to cross illegally into the US, and have been officially identified after autopsies.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), discovered the bodies on the Canadian side of the border. They identified the four as Jagdishkumar Patel, 39, his wife Vaishaliben Patel, 37, daughter Vihangi Patel, 11 and son Dharmik Patel, 3.

The family came from Dingucha village in Kalol taluka of Gandhinagar district. Jagdishkumar Patel reportedly paid Rs 70 lakhs ($133,198 AUD) to human smugglers to help him cross into the US from Canada.

The RCMP said: “The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of Manitoba has confirmed that the cause of death was due to exposure.”

They added that the family landed in Toronto from India on January 12. They travelled to the town of Emerson on the Canada-US border in Manitoba on, or about January 18.

Since no vehicles were found abandoned near the spot where the four bodies were found on the Canadian side of the border, the RCMP said someone drove them to the border and then left.

“We know the Patel family moved around Canada for a period of time and we are looking for anyone that may have had encounters with them,” the RCMP said.

The Indian High Commission on Ottawa, which sent a team from the Consulate in Toronto to Winnipeg on January 20 to assist the Canadian authorities in the investigations, said the next of kin of the family in India have been informed.

Meanwhile, the Ahmedabad Police’s Crime Branch has picked up a man, who is believed to be an agent that sends people to Canada in exchange of a consulting fee, from Paliyad village for questioning.

Jagdishkumar Patel and his family had travelling on a visitor visa. According to his relatives, the Gujarati family was in Canada as tourists.

With their relatives in India deciding not to bring back their bodies, the family will likely be cremated in Winnipeg. However, no decision has been taken yet.

An appeal on GoFundMe has raised $70,000 USD for the victims.

Jaswant Patel, a cousin of the deceased man in their native village Dingucha near Ahmedabad, said that the family wants their funerals to take place in Canada.

The Indian High Commission in Ottawa, which is in touch with the victims’ family in Gujarat, will take the final decision on the matter.

As the Gujarati community of Winnipeg awaits a decision on the funerals, it held an online ‘Shanti Path’ (prayer meeting) for the victim family on Saturday.

“Over 60 people joined us. We prayed for the family. Our local MP and the Mayor were among those who conveyed their condolences,” said organiser Bhadresh Bhatt of the Hindu Sabha of Manitoba.

Bhatt, who has been coordinating with the Indian High Commission since the tragedy came to light, said mission officials are in touch with the relatives in Gujarat of the victim family.

“Since the victim family has no relatives and friends in Winnipeg, the Indian High Commission will finally take a decision of the funerals – whether they will be held in Winnipeg,” he said.


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