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Court finds Aldergrove spiritual leader not guilty of human smuggling

A spiritual leader will be sentenced at a later date for bringing people across the border.
A camera on top of a tower near on Zero Avenue in Surrey. (Jason Payne/PNG)

by Keith Fraser/Special to the Langley Advance

A spiritual leader in Aldergrove has been found not guilty of human smuggling, but guilty of a lesser immigration offence after an RCMP operation that saw 10 undercover Mounties moved across the border from the U.S. into Canada.

RCMP conducted surveillance on Joga Singh Badwal in 2011 and 2012 after receiving information that he was involved in smuggling people across the border.

When the police surveillance of Badwal, who ran a temple out of his home in Aldergrove, failed to detect any illegal activity, the undercover operation was launched.

An undercover officer, who cannot be identified due to a publication ban, met Badwal at the accused’s address on 264th Street. The cop said he had come to talk about bringing his “friends” to Canada from the U.S. and Badwal said he was willing to help, court heard.

Badwal said the Blaine area was too “heaty,” which the cop took to mean there would be a greater law-enforcement presence. He also said it was easier to bring at least two people at a time. Asked what it would cost to bring two “friends” of the cop, Badwal said it depended on the driver, but he estimated about $3,000 per person.

Badwal indicated that he formerly did the driving himself, but now used others, making the rates variable and said the friends would be dropped off on the American side of the border and would have to walk across, maybe a mile or two.

Court heard that on three occasions in 2012 Badwal arranged for a total of 10 undercover cops to cross the border.

On the first crossing, in July 2012, two undercover cops who had travelled into the U.S. were picked up by the driver of a newer-model Dodge truck near a TacoTime restaurant and then driven to a road that ran adjacent to Zero Avenue. The driver told them he was going to slow down and asked that they get out as fast as they could and run across the street to the ditch and once they crossed the ditch, they’d be in Canada.

After crossing to the Canadian side, the two cops saw a red van coming toward them at a high rate of speed before stopping. The driver shouted at them to get into the vehicle and after they’d hopped into the van, the vehicle left at a high rate of speed. The van drove to a McDonald’s restaurant on 264th Street and dropped off the cops. An undercover officer gave Badwal $3,000, but reminded him of an earlier offer to cover hotel costs and Badwal gave back $200 in cash.

The other two crossings occurred in September and October 2012.

After the third crossing, the driver who picked up five undercover cops on the Canadian side “made” the primary undercover cop who met with them and the operation was terminated and Badwal arrested and charged. A total of $13,000 that had been paid to Badwal after the third crossing was later recovered.

The human-smuggling trial was delayed due to a constitutional challenge to the section of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act that Badwal was charged with.

In her verdict, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Jennifer Duncan noted that because the people being “smuggled” were actually undercover officers who could lawfully cross the border without documents as a result of arrangements with Canadian and U.S. authorities, the full offence of human smuggling could not be proven and that the Crown was seeking instead a conviction on an attempt to commit the offence.

But the judge found that notwithstanding Badwal’s “covert operation” to move people across the border and an awareness of what he was doing was wrong, she was not satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that the Crown had proven the essential element that he intended to smuggle undocumented migrants through actual knowledge they were undocumented or through wilful blindness.

The judge noted the new version of the law would likely have captured Badwal’s conduct as it no longer requires knowledge of a lack of documentation as an essential element of the offence.

Duncan, however, found Badwal guilty of the offence of failing to bring persons for examination when entering into Canada. Badwal is to be sentenced at a later date.

- Keith Fraser is a reporter with the Vancouver Sun.

For more from the Sun, click HERE.