At least Joga Singh Badwal didn’t make his illegal border crossers walk through an unforgiving desert and scale a wall. They just jumped a ditch in Whatcom County.
The 66-year-old Aldergrove, B.C. man was convicted of helping people cross into Canada from Whatcom County illegally for money, using a ditch between Boundary Road in Whatcom County just north of Lynden and 0 Avenue on the Canadian side. He was found guilty of a lesser immigration charge that he did “knowingly induce, aid or abet, or attempt to induce, aid or abet” the entry of 10 people without appearing before an officer at a port of entry.
All of the “10 persons” referred to in the charges were undercover officers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who participated in the investigation to bust Badwal’s operation.
Badwal, however, was acquitted on a charge of human smuggling because the undercover officers had pre-clearance to enter Canada and were not undocumented migrants – though “the Crown’s position is that he is guilty of an attempt to commit the offences,” according to the June 15 judgment of the Supreme Court of British Columbia.
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He told authorities he had been helping people cross to Canada for some 30 years.
Prosecutors said Badwal had been using his status as a spiritual leader within the South Asian community in British Columbia to transport people illegally into Canada, mostly those with ties within his community.
Those in the community refer to Badwal as “Baba ji,” which means priest or elderly male in Punjabi, according to court papers.
The initial transactions to help people get into Canada illegally happened at Badwal’s Aldergrove home, which also served as a temple for the community, the documents said.
“It was all part of his covert border concierge service to arrange for people to cross the border undetected, then continue the deception by arranging a rendezvous point that was not a port of entry,” the judgment order stated.
They traveled from Whatcom County
Badwal was the focus of an undercover investigation between May 2011 and October 2012. That probe revealed he was paid $3,000 to $4,000 per crosser, usually in Canadian dollars, to have drivers escort people to an area near East Boundary Road north of Lynden, which is separated from 0 Avenue in Canada by a shallow ditch. The people would cross into Canada on foot, where they met a waiting vehicle driven by those working for Badwal.
They were then dropped off “at locations several miles north of the border,” court papers indicated.
In July 2012, two undercover RCMP officers posing as illegal border crossers were met in the parking lot of a Costco store on Meridian Street in Bellingham (Costo has since moved to its new location on West Bakerview Road).
The officers were instructed to leave Costco and go to a nearby Taco Time restaurant, where they were picked up by a man driving a Dodge pickup. The man drove them to Boundary Road.
“He said he was going to slow down and they would get out as fast as they could and run across the street to the ditch and once they crossed it they would be in Canada,” according to officers’ testimony. Across the border, the officers were picked up by a red van.
During the investigation, Badwal apparently told an undercover officer “the Blaine area was too ‘heaty’,” meaning there was tighter border security there. He noted it was “easier to bring at least two people at a time.”
Badwal even bragged about a Ford Explorer he said had been given to him “by people he had helped get into Canada,” though he had scaled back from driving the crossers himself, according to court documents.
A second crossing in September 2012 involved three undercover officers who were driven from a convenience store to a location on Bender Road, just north of Lynden, where they “crossed over to the Canadian side on foot and waited in a ditch.”
The undercover group involved in a third crossing the following month were five officers who attended a briefing at the Homeland Security Investigation office in Bellingham.
The would-be border crossers were told to wait at Costco on Meridian, but a later meeting was arranged at a Walmart store off Meridian Street instead. The officers were picked up by a man “wearing a blue turban,” driving a minivan. They also were driven north to Bender Road.
The meeting place on the Canadian side, after the crossings, was a McDonald’s restaurant on 264th Street, just north of Aldergrove near Highway 1. That’s where Badwal collected his fees.
At the conclusion of the third crossing, the driver who picked up the group recognized one of the undercover officers – from a previous interaction – so authorities pulled the plug on the operation and arrested Badwall.
He is set to be sentenced later this year.