A year after Manitoba border tragedy, family wants answers about who in Canada was responsible

A year to the day after a family of four was found frozen to death in Manitoba near the U.S. border, questions remain about why no one in Canada has been held responsible for the tragedy.

Patel family was discovered frozen to death in a southern Manitoba field last January

A year to the day after a family of four was found frozen to death in Manitoba near the U.S. border, questions remain about why no one in Canada has been held responsible for the tragedy.

The Jan. 19 anniversary of the day police discovered the bodies of Dharmik Patel, 3; his sister, Vihangi Patel, 11; and their parents, Vaishali Patel, 37, and Jagdish Patel, 39, in a field just north of the border comes days after two men were arrested in India in connection with their deaths.

For Mahendra Patel, Jagdish's brother, that brought some closure.

But he wants to see more being done to figure out who else was involved in bringing his brother's family to the border — a case authorities have said involved human smuggling — while his family continues to grieve their loss.

"I hope the other people in the U.S. or Canada who are also responsible for this tragedy are arrested," he told a freelancer in India working for CBC News.

"My parents, however, still remember Jagdish's family every day. That is the haunting memory they will continue to live with."

The same day the Patel family's bodies were discovered, a Florida man was charged in the U.S. in connection with the case. Steve Shand was later indicted on two counts of human smuggling.

But a year later, no arrests have been made related to the case in Canada.

Manitoba RCMP spokesperson Robert Cyrenne said while a police official in India suggested this week the Patels travelled to Toronto, then to Vancouver and Manitoba, there's no evidence indicating the family was ever in Vancouver.

The Mounties' investigation to date indicates the Patel family landed in Canada at Toronto's Pearson airport on Jan. 12, 2022, via an international flight from Dubai, Cyrenne said in an email.

RCMP also previously said a private individual then picked up the family.

WATCH | The Patel family arriving at the airport in Toronto:

Patel family arrives at Pearson airport

3 months ago

Duration 0:30

Exclusive video obtained by The Fifth Estate shows the Patel family arriving at Toronto’s Pearson airport on Jan. 12. A week later, their bodies would be found along the Canada-U.S. border in Manitoba.

After that, they spent a few days in the Greater Toronto area in hotels and a private residence, and used a ride-sharing service and personal rides from people they were associated with to get around, Mounties said.

But as of late last year, police wouldn't reveal who they believed sheltered and shuttled the Patels in the Toronto area.

'We have to bring closure'

For one of the few people invited to attend the family's funeral in Winnipeg last year, the memories of that day still haven't faded.

Bhadresh Bhattsaid he thinks about the Patel family, especially when he's back at the funeral home where the family had their final rites.

And he said he's not the only one who's had a hard time putting the tragedy behind him.

"Every time there is a gathering, the community is wondering," said Bhatt, who's the past president of the Hindu Society of Manitoba.

A man with glasses, grey hair and a short mustache is speaking to behind the camera. The background behind him is blurred.

"They must have [had] some help in Canada. And the community is wondering who that person could be — you know, how can somebody put four innocent lives into such a danger that resulted in such a tragedy?"

Bhatt said community members like him are hoping investigators will eventually be able to provide more answers about the case.

"We have to bring closure to this incident, you know — one way or other way," he said.

Difficult memories

The incident also brings back painful memories for those who responded on the other side of the border.

For people at the Kittson County sheriff's office in northwestern Minnesota, which was the first to respond to a group of seven Indian nationals who were believed to have gotten separated from the Patel family on their journey over the border, the incident hit close to home — especially for those with kids of their own, said Sheriff Matt Vig.

"It was a tough deal," Vig said. "Because everybody here … [are] moms and dads."

A sheriff in uniform stands outside.

Kathryn Siemer, acting patrol agent in charge of the Pembina Border Patrol station in North Dakota, said unfortunately, it's not uncommon to work cases involving people who died as they tried to cross the border into the U.S.

But that doesn't make it any easier when it happens.

"I think everybody handles it a little bit differently, but it's just — nobody wants to forget about it," said Siemer, whose office was also involved in apprehending the seven migrants.

"But you also have to still continue to do your job. And so I like to remember it as a reminder of how dangerous it can be out here — not just for us as law enforcement, but also for those people that we're working to intercept.

"They're still human beings and we don't want to see anyone lose their lives."

Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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