The three-member Punjab Police team sent to Canada to bring back accused Malkiat Kaur and Surjit Singh Badesha to face trial in India in the alleged Jassi honour killing case was scheduled to fly back with the duo last Tuesday night from Vancouver. The team, however, came back empty-handed. Before that they had to change their schedule once before, when the airline said it did not have enforcement officers to accompany the accused on the flight, as required by airlines in extradition cases.
It is not clear if the extra day the police team had to wait to board a flight was what proved to be the end of the extradition attempt. But it was on Wednesday morning, even as Kaur and Badesha — mother and maternal uncle of Jassi — were on their way out of Vancouver on the first leg of their journey, that their lawyers filed a “judicial review” petition in a British Columbia Court of Appeal challenging the extradition. The legal move came after a relative of Badesha went to see him at the Vancouver prison, where he was lodged, and found that he and Malkiat Kaur had been taken away for extradition.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of Canada had set aside a ruling against the extradition by the same British Columbia Court of Appeal, and ordered Badesha and Kaur be sent to India to face trial in the murder case in India. But overruling the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal once again stayed the extradition, and the Punjab Police team led by Patiala SP Kanwardeep Kaur and comprising of Dhuri DSP Akashdeep Singh Aulakh and Inspector Deepinder Pal Singh returned empty handed on Sunday.
The Indian Express has pieced together the events of those four days after talking to the police officials involved. The Canadian lawyer who filed the review petition did not respond to calls, or to an email sent to him. A Canadian government official that The Indian Express contacted said he could not comment on the case. The Punjab Police team had flown British Airways, and reached Vancouver on Sunday, September 24, evening. They had blocked seats on the same airline to fly back with Badesha and Kaur on Tuesday, but the seats were not confirmed.
“When British Airways learnt about the extradition, it cited rules and said British enforcement officers need to be present in any extradition in British Airways flight. The airline said British enforcement officers were not available for the particular flight. We were told that for each accused to be extradited, three British enforcement officers need to be mandatorily present on the flight,” a member of the police team that returned from Canada told The Indian Express on Thursday.
The team scrambled to reschedule their departure, and after discussions with the Indian High Commission and RCMP, tickets were booked on an Air Canada flight for Wednesday. The flight was from Vancouver to Delhi via Toronto. When the team boarded the flight from Vancouver on Wednesday, they had no clue about what was about to unravel. “RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) officials had custody of the duo on the flight. We were to take custody only when the flight was to take off from Toronto. RCMP officials were to be there in the flight till Toronto only. But minutes before the flight was to take off from Toronto for Delhi at 10 pm on Wednesday, RCMP officials told us that extradition had been stayed by a court. We immediately had to deplane with our luggage.” said the official.
The official said that “since the duo (Badesha and Kaur) were in RCMP officials’ custody from Vancouver to Toronto, they did not interact with them. “They were also carrying some luggage, a couple of handbags,” he said. According to the official, the team learnt from “unconfirmed sources” that the duo’s lawyers had to be informed in advance about the extradition. But that requirement had not been fulfilled.“The lawyers moved a review petition and extradition was halted,” said the official. He revealed that they took off from Toronto to return to India on Sunday evening after learning that the court had adjourned the case to a next date and pending petition in the court, the extradition was not possible.
Canadian media reported that the lawyers had not been kept into the loop when the federal justice minister gave the green light for the extradition. The extradition was halted two is to one, by the three-member bench, in which the dissenting judge questioned the jurisdiction of the court to hear an application for judicial review.
In 2014, a British Columbia court had ordered extradition of Badesha and Kaur, but the same Court of Appeal, which has halted the extradition now, stayed it then after defence lawyers argued that the two could be subjected to torture in India. Canada-born Jaswinder Kaur Jassi was murdered in June 2000. Jassi’s mother, Malkiat Kaur, and her uncle, Surjit Singh Badesha (Malkiat’s brother), were accused of orchestrating the crime through a “contract killing” allegedly as she had married without her family’s approval. Jassi had married Sukhwinder Singh Mithu, a resident of Kaunke Khosa village near Jagraon in Punjab, after falling in love with him during her visit to Punjab. Both Jassi and Mithu were allegedly attacked by the “contract killers”. Mithu had survived the attack.
On Thursday, Mithu, who is currently a member of village panchayat, said, “A senior Punjab Police official tells me that they will bring both of them to India in a month. The officer has told me that the Punjab Police team is in Canada only and documentation is being completed for extradition. When I told the officer about media reports which said that the extradition was halted and they were taken out from the plane at the eleventh hour, the officer said nothing like that had happened. He tells me that ‘the duo were to be brought to the airport from jail. They were to be medically examined. And when there is so much media attention, how come there are no photographs of the duo taken to airport from jail or for medical examination”.
“The officer asserts that documentation is underway,” Mithu told The Indian Express over phone, adding that he wanted “exemplary punishment” for both the accused.