The bodies of families frozen to cross the border may not return to India

Relatives of a family who froze to cross the US border in southern Manitoba said their bodies are not expected to return to India for a funeral.

Amritbhai Vakil said the family found it emotionally difficult to see the couple and their two children and that it was too expensive to carry the bodies.

“Can you imagine what would happen if your parents saw four at once?” He said.

They hope there may be a funeral in Canada, Vakir added.

RCMP and diplomatic authorities announced the names of the dead on Thursday. Jagdish Patel, 39 years old. His wife Vaishaliben Patel, 37 years old. Their 11-year-old daughter, Vihangi Patel; and their 3-year-old son, Dermic Patel.

The family traveled to Toronto on January 12 from the village of Dingucha in Gujarat, western India, Mounties said. Their frozen corpse was found seven days later in the snow, just a few meters from the border.

A U.S. man was arrested and charged with trafficking. US officials claim he is part of an organized trafficking company.

Steve Shand of Deltona, Florida, was driving a van with two Indians just south of the border on January 19, according to US court documents.

According to the document, the other five from India were shortly after being found in the snow walking in the direction of the van. They told border guards that they had been walking for over 11 hours in the freezing cold and the other four left the group overnight.

A man in the group also said he was paying a lot of money to get a fake student visa in Canada and was hoping to get into a relative’s house in Chicago after crossing the border.

According to a statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of India, the High Commissioner’s Office in Ottawa and the Consul General of Toronto are working closely with Canadian authorities.

Anil Prasam, an additional director of police in Gujarat, said he was waiting for information and guidance from the Foreign Ministry to proceed with the investigation. Prasam said he believes Patels used a local travel agency to get a visa to Canada.

Vakil said in a telephone interview from Dingucha that Indian families had been wondering for a few days whether the bodies found in Canada were their relatives. The family knew that the four had traveled to Canada, he said, but no one was able to reach them.

He said the family is experiencing complex emotions.

“They knew in their minds that it was their child, but they didn’t want to believe it,” Vakir said.

“They had some hope, but I knew it was a false hope. It’s also shocking and sad when you realize what you’re most afraid of.”

He added that the week it took authorities to identify Patel helped mitigate the blow. “We are given time to process our thoughts and feelings.”

He said the family had 15 days of memorial and prayer service in the village.

Another service took place in Winnipeg on Friday night. The President of the Indian Manitoba Association said he worked with a local organization to put together an hour of virtual stuff for members of the community. This group worked with Toronto consulate officials to help identify Patel.

Ramandeep Grewar said he hopes to give members of the community a way to deal with their sorrows. With the COVID-19 restrictions still in place, the group decided to hold something online.

Since the news of death, people have reached out to share their own stories about immigration to the United States and Canada, Grewar said.

“I think it’s very important for everyone to get together and talk. It’s a little calming for everyone,” he said.

“Otherwise, people are just thinking about it … (and) what was wrong?”

Along Hina Alam and Brittany Hobson

Canadian press