18 years after Jassi Sidhu's killing, concerns voiced about trial's outcome
'I feel the trajectory of the case may end up resulting in the acquittal of the two in India,' says journalist
James Longridge flicks through a binder filled with newspaper clippings about Jassi Sidhu's murder as his grandchildren play in the background at his Maple Ridge, B.C., home.
Longridge remembers Sidhu as a good student at nearby Pitt Meadows Secondary where he was principal in the early 1990s.
He says she would be about 43 if she were alive, the same age as his own daughter.
"Why didn't she have the right to live happily with her husband and have children — if they wanted them — and even come to Canada?" he said in an interview.
Sidhu defied her family and married a poor auto-rickshaw driver in India instead of the man they intended in March 1999.
The young couple was attacked by a group of men on a rural road in Punjab in June 2000. Jassi, then aged 25, died after her throat was slit. Her husband, Sukhwinder Singh Sidhu, known as Mithu, was badly injured but lived.
Jassi's mother Malkit Kaur Sidhu and her uncle Surjit Singh Badesha were finally extradited this week to face conspiracy charges in Malerkotla, India after a legal battle over extradition that took almost 17 years.
But Longridge and others who have followed the lengthy extradition process as it wound through Canadian courts say they're concerned that Sidhu and Badesha may get off lightly for their alleged conspiracy in India.
In 2014 B.C., Supreme Court Judge Gregory Finch ruled that they should be extradited because he was convinced that a jury could convict based on the evidence. That included phone records showing 266 calls between the family home and the four men convicted of Jassi's murder in India.
The assailants were imprisoned for life. Sidhu's mother and uncle — and another uncle, Darshan Singh Badesha, in India — were all charged with conspiring to have the couple killed.
The two in Canada fought extradition with technical arguments about the "medieval" state of prisons and possible torture they may face, even appealing to then justice minister Judy Wilson-Raybould who rejected their request.
The uncle in India was convicted of conspiracy but was eventually acquitted last year by the Supreme Court of India.
That acquittal has led a Canadian journalist who has followed the case since the 2000 killing to believe the recently extradited pair may elude justice.
Fabian Dawson, former deputy editor of the Vancouver Province and the Vancouver Sun newspapers, has co-authored a book about the story called Justice for Jassi.
"I feel the trajectory of the case may end up resulting in the acquittal of the two in India," he said citing the acquittal of Darshan Badesha.
The long-running fight over extradition is also an issue, he said, calling Canada's extradition treaties "quite the laughingstock of the world."
India has always expressed frustration at the delays of getting the pair returned to face charges.
"Some of the officers who were originally involved in the file have retired and some have moved on to different positions, but two or three of them kept the case going and are willing to testify," Dawson said.
Now retired, Longridge wrote "letter after letter" to politicians and police in Canada and did interviews, campaigning for accountability in the case. He followed the long process to extradite, his binders filling with news clippings for almost 19 years.
He worries about what happens next to Sidhu and Badesha, who made their first court appearance in India on Friday.
"Even if they're found guilty, I'm not convinced that there's not going to be something that's going to be hugely disappointing to people like me and hundreds of others who have always sought justice for Jassi.
If they are acquitted, he is concerned they will be back living at the large family compound in Maple Ridge, as they have been for many of the past 18 years, "as if nothing has happened."
With files from Belle Puri