An Indian citizen who was part of the same group of migrants as a family that froze to death near the United States border in Manitoba last year has been accused of forgery in his home country, after allegedly using fake documents to apply to study in Canada.
The now 19-year-old man is accused of using forged high school transcripts in his application to Loyalist College in southern Ontario, according to a police document filed in court in the Gandhinagar region of Gujarat, a state in western India.
That document, filed last October, alleged the man's father paid a large sum of money for someone to get his son a study permit in Canada and then help him get over the border.
U.S. law enforcement officials said the man was among the seven Indian nationals arrested just south of the international border in January 2022, shortly before the bodies of the Patel family were discovered on the other side.
Authorities said at the time those seven people were part of the same group as the Patels — three-year-old Dharmik, his 11-year-old sister Vihangi, and their parents, Vaishali, 37, and Jagdish, 39. The Patels and the rest of the group got separated during the journey, according to authorities.
While no one from Loyalist College was made available for an interview, a spokesperson said the man applied to the college but never registered there as a student.
The college has since shared documents related to his application with RCMP and is co-operating with the related investigation, the spokesperson told CBC News in an email.
Including its main campus in Belleville, Ont., Loyalist College has four locations listed online as schools eligible for students on study permits. The college also has campuses in Bancroft, Belleville and Toronto.
U.S. law enforcement officials said the man was deported after being arrested, but would not say where he was sent.
A Winnipeg immigration lawyer said a case like this suggests there are bigger problems in the system.
"It undermines the integrity of the whole program and the whole system," said Kenneth Zaifman, principal at Zaifman Law.
He said many post-secondary schools in Canada depend on international students financially and actively work to recruit more.
But as the number of out-of-country applications grows, so does the application backlog — which means immigration authorities aren't able to carefully vet each one.
"That's where you have the ability for people to exploit the system," said Zaifman, who added he's currently dealing with another case involving fraudulent documents in an international student's application at Loyalist College.
A $100K journey
The man's plan to cross into the U.S. illegally was set in motion a year earlier, when someone who frequented his father's shop in India offered to help send his son to a foreign country, according to the police report, which was filed following a preliminary investigation.
The man's father told police he agreed to pay that person 6.5 million Indian rupees — over $106,000 Cdn at current exchange rates — in return for getting his son a Canadian study permit and helping him get into the U.S., the report says.
When news spread that the son had been arrested not far from the U.S. border, his father called the man he paid. The man told the father not to worry and that he would get his son released, according to the report. The next day, the man's son was released and he reached his destination in Chicago, it says.
An affidavit filed last year in connection with a U.S. man charged in the migrants' failed journey revealed details about some of the people in the group apprehended at the border.
That group included a person with the same initials as the man who applied to Loyalist College. That person was carrying a backpack full of children's items that belonged to the Patel family, the affidavit said.
That affidavit also said one of the people in the group told authorities he'd paid a significant amount of money to get to Canada from India under a fraudulently obtained student visa.
That person, who was not identified by any initials, said he planned to illegally enter the U.S. on foot and had expected to be picked up and driven to his uncle's home in Chicago.
Both the man who crossed over the border and the man who was allegedly paid to get him to the U.S. are accused of offences related to forgery and criminal conspiracy under the Indian Penal Code, the Gujarat police report said.
Warnings about agents
Alastair Clarke, an immigration lawyer with Clarke Immigration Law in Winnipeg, said he warns his clients about using immigration consultants and agents in India based on rampant fraud and fake documents — and in 2019, so did the Canadian government.
Clarke said he's seen prospective students looking to come to Canada through one of those agents who didn't know the documents they got were fraudulent.
"They and their families are often taking out loans, they are paying exorbitant fees to agents and shady consultants for a study permit," he said.
But the applicants — not the agents — are the ones who face the consequences if they're caught, which can range from having an application denied to being banned from the country for five years.
While the government has tried to warn people about those risks, that's not the only thing people consider, he said.
"We're also dealing with some strong cultural considerations, where applicants are coming from a place of extreme poverty, possibly, and they are looking to Canada for a better life," Clarke said.
He also sometimes deals with clients who don't realize that buying the necessary documents isn't an option in the Canadian immigration system, which requires legitimate paperwork.
A spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said it continues to provide information to help prospective applicants avoid becoming victims of fraud.
That includes a 2019 advertising campaign in India to educate people about fraudulent immigration agents and discourage repeat applications by people who were previously refused, the spokesperson said.
'Constant contact' with police in U.S., India: RCMP
The man's admission documents were obtained from Loyalist College by Mounties and shared with investigators in Gujarat following a request from Indian police, Manitoba RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Julie Courchaine told CBC News.
Courchaine said RCMP haven't had any further requests from Gujarat police related to their investigation of counterfeit documents. She wouldn't say whether Mounties have asked other Canadian schools whether they got applications from other migrants in the group.
Canadian police are still working with investigators in other jurisdictions on the wider investigation around the deaths of the Patels, said Courchaine.
"We're in constant contact with our U.S. counterparts in regards to this as well as [those in] India through our liaison officers," she said in an interview at Manitoba RCMP headquarters in Winnipeg last week.
"It's all part of the bigger investigation."
While no one in Canada has yet been charged in connection with that investigation, a police memo issued in India earlier this month suggests two men in Canada were responsible for helping the group of migrants that included the Patel family.
Gujarat police have arrested three people in connection with that group. They say one of those men said he was personally involved in getting two of the migrants to Canada, including a woman who had to be hospitalized for frostbite after crossing the border in freezing temperatures.
Bhavesh Patel, Yogesh Patel and Dashrath Chaudhary are all charged with culpable homicide not amounting to murder, attempting culpable homicide, human trafficking and criminal conspiracy.
Shortly after the Patel family's bodies were discovered on Jan. 19, 2022, 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.