A vigil for a family of four who died attempting to cross the Canada-US border near Emerson, Man., Has been planned for Friday night.
On the night of Jan. 19, the family was part of a larger group of Indian nationals who were allegedly brought to Manitoba as part of a human smuggling operation. The four apparently became separated from the group in blizzard-like conditions and -30 C temperatures and died of exposure to the elements.
The family was identified by RCMP as Jagdish Baldevbhai Patel, a 39-year-old man; Vaishaliben Jagdishkumar Patel, a 37-year-old woman; Vihangi Jagdishkumar Patel, an 11-year-old girl; and Dharmik Jagdishkumar Patel, a three-year-old boy.
Priyanka Singh of the India Association of Manitoba – one of the local groups organizing the vigil – told 680 CJOB the tragedy has had a big impact on the local Indian community.
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“We all have read about these things happening, but this one hits very close to home,” she said.
“The community is very shocked, the community is in mourning.
“It looks like they have no family here in Canada, so this multi-faith vigil which is being organized to mourn the deaths of this family is basically to remember them and remember that their lives had meaning and importance.”
Singh said the tragedy has brought a number of issues into focus – particularly the need to look at ways to make sure migration is done safely and legally.
“We can not make any assumptions. This family was probably hoping for a better life. It reminds us of the fact that we have to use legal means to get into any other country, there are laws and they exist for a reason.
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“I know there’s a lot of investigation going on, RCMP Manitoba, the Indian police in Gujarat, the province where these people were from are investigating – because this has to be a larger nexus of people who are running this racket, and I hope the investigating authorities reach to the bottom of this and actually punish the people who are responsible for this. ”
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So far, one man is in US custody facing human smuggling charges.
Florida resident Steve Shand is suspected of being part of a larger network that has been smuggling Indian nationals into Minnesota from Manitoba by foot in frigid winter temperatures – something Singh said is impossible to prepare for.
“Whatever reason this family had, there was absolutely no reason for them to lose their lives. Did they even comprehend what -40 weather in Manitoba is like?
“When I first came to Canada, my first winter, I could not even imagine subzero temperatures – I had no clue.”
The vigil takes place online Friday at 7 pm and is being presented by a number of local organizations, including Access Without Fear Committee, Immigration Partnership Winnipeg, Ethnocultural Council of Manitoba – Stronger Together Inc., the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg, and Migrant Manitoba .
To register for the event, visit the Zoom link on the India Association of Manitoba’s Facebook page.
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