British Columbia

Cross-border people smuggler loses battle to stay in Canada

Federal court case reveals details of people smuggling ring.

Karamdeep Singh Bagri was caught in Washington state in 2015 with 5 undocumented Indian nationals

Migrants are caught by a night-vision camera walking across the Canada-U.S. border. (CBC) (CBC)

A B.C. man caught driving a van full of undocumented Indian nationals into Washington state has lost his battle to remain in Canada.

In a decision released last month, a federal court judge upheld a decision to declare Karamdeep Singh Bagri inadmissible to Canada because he was involved in people smuggling.

'I was caught'

The court documents detail a scheme that began in a Sikh temple parking lot in 2014 when Bagri met a shadowy figure named "Babba" — culminating in his pursuit by U.S. border control agents a year later.

The 31-year-old claimed the day he was caught — just south of the border by Abbotsford, B.C., with two men, two women and a child in his rental vehicle — was the first time he had ever picked up an illegal alien.

Border Patrol agents caught Karamdeep Singh Bagri with five undocumented Indian nationals in his vehicle. (Gregory Bull/Associated Press)

According to a transcript of an interview with a Canada Border Services Agency officer, Bagri said he was on the phone with Babba when he noticed he was being followed. 

"Babba just told me to start driving and he would give me directions. I started to drive and I only drove two or three miles and I saw the (border patrol) truck," the transcript reads.

"I tried to turn another way, but then they were behind me and the lights were flashing. I was caught."

Growing number of U.S. asylum claims

The case highlights the issue of human smuggling through Canada into the United States.

According to U.S. Justice Department statistics, 731 Indian nationals sought asylum south of the border in 2010. That number jumped to 2,277 by 2015, the year Bagri was caught.

The number of Indian nationals seeking asylum in the United States has risen drastically in recent years from 731 in 2010 to 2,277 in 2017. (Christinne Muschi/Reuters)

Bagri became a permanent resident of Canada in 2008. The case wound up in federal court after he applied for a judicial review of an earlier Immigration and Refugee Board decision rendering him inadmissible because of his part in a "criminal organization."

The arguments centred around the number of people required to determine an organization is criminal, Bagri's level of involvement and the degree to which his drug addiction clouded his ability to participate in the scheme.

'Aware what he was doing was illegal'

According to the IRB decision, Bagri claimed Babba approached him in October 2014, offering to pay him to drive over the border and pick up people who crossed on foot.

Bagri had a visa which allowed him to make multiple trips into the United States.

"He was asked about the involvement of others in the smuggling scheme. He indicated that his own friend, Tari, also worked for Babba and that there were others who he did not really know," wrote IRB member Marc Tessler.

"Babba, he told the officer, works for Balkar, who lives in Toronto."

The documents say that Bagri told officers he crossed the border a couple of times before he was caught on Jan. 12, 2015, but that he didn't pick anyone up.

On the day he was caught, Bagri claimed he had arranged to meet Babba at a Walmart in Bellingham, Wash.

"Instead, Babba phoned him with instructions where to pick up the individuals who had crossed the border," Tessler wrote.

"Mr. Bagri told the officer he was aware that what he was doing was illegal."

He claimed that he expected to pick up two people, but that five showed up instead.

No dispute he was involved

In the latest federal court decision, the judge found that the IRB ruling was reasonable.

"Mr. Bagri did not dispute that he had engaged in people smuggling, that there was a transnational dimension to that activity, nor that he expected to receive a financial benefit for his role in the activity," the decision reads.

"Member Tessler also reasonably found that Mr. Bagri was well aware of the illegal nature of that activity. Mr. Bagri himself said so on at least two occasions."

The court also backed up Tessler's finding that Bagri's alcohol and drug addiction problems had no bearing on the people smuggling allegations.

Bagri could not be reached for comment.


Jason Proctor


Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and mental health issues in the justice system extensively.


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