Mourning B.C. family struggles to return body to India after sudden suspension of flights

·3 min read
Amrinder Singh had been working in Canada for three months at the time of his death. (Submitted by Bimaljeet Kaur Kaler - image credit)
Amrinder Singh had been working in Canada for three months at the time of his death. (Submitted by Bimaljeet Kaur Kaler - image credit)

A B.C. family is struggling to return the body of a loved one to India after the federal government's suspension of flights to and from the country made an already heart-wrenching task nearly impossible.

Amrinder Singh died suddenly at age 29 on April 5. His family still does not know the cause of his death.

He had been in Canada for three months, working in a Langley, B.C., hotel, in the hopes of bringing his young family over from India to build a better life.

Upon his death, his cousin Bimaljeet Kaur Kaler worked tirelessly to secure the permits necessary to return his body to India for his family.

The flight on which his body was to be transported was set to fly in the early hours of April 25. But on April 22 the federal government banned passenger flights from India and Pakistan for 30 days amid rising COVID-19 case counts in India and concerns about mutations of the coronavirus.

"It was very hard to see him already as a dead body. I never imagined him like that. When I talked to my family [in India] they said that this is the last time we can see him, so please send the body to India however you can," said Kaur Kaler.

"We are facing a very, very hard time."

Bimaljeet Kaur Kaler is pictured at the Gurdwara Dukh Nivaran Sahib in Surrey, B.C. on April 27. Singh was her cousin, though she called him brother.
Bimaljeet Kaur Kaler is pictured at the Gurdwara Dukh Nivaran Sahib in Surrey, B.C. on April 27. Singh was her cousin, though she called him brother.(Ben Nelms/CBC)

Kaur Kaler said at the time of the federal government's announcement, her cousin's body was already at the airport. She had to arrange for it to be transported back to the funeral home, and is now working to once again secure the necessary permits for the body to be flown to India, perhaps on an indirect flight.

Kaur Kaler said she understood the urgency of the situation given the rapidly deteriorating situation in India and the need to protect Canada from a worsening third wave of infections. But she said she wishes the government had given two or three days' notice before the sudden suspension of flights.

"All the permissions are not granted yet. We are still in the process. We still don't know when he can go back to India. It's already been almost a month," she said.

"They shouldn't do this very suddenly, they should think of people on the ground level, what they would face. I don't think there can be another big emergency as big as death."

Kaur Kaler referred to Singh as her brother, though the two were first cousins. She described him as "a very generous person, a very cheerful person."

"He really wanted to give a very, very beautiful life to his family, his daughters, his wife."

India has now posted seven consecutive days of more than 300,000 new coronavirus infections and Wednesday's death toll rose by 3,263. The official numbers are seen as an underestimation by health experts.