Chamkaur Singh Pandher of Surrey acquitted in heroin case

Chamkaur Singh Pandher
File photo of a heroin seizure

CHAMKAUR Singh Pandher of Surrey who was charged with importing about four kilograms of heroin into Canada on February 22, 2010, and unlawful possession of that heroin for the purposes of trafficking, has been acquitted by B.C. Supreme Court.

Pandher was returning to Canada by air from a visit to India when, at primary examination, he was flagged by Canadian Border Services Officer Raffaela Mandarino for secondary examination at the Vancouver International Airport. During that secondary examination, X-ray inspection of the first of the two suitcases Pandher brought into Canada revealed the existence of organic material in its bottom.

Further examination of that suitcase by CBSA officer Amandeep Bhalru disclosed the existence of a narrow, wooden pallet covered in a black material that was held in place by a steel bar which had been screwed into place to hold the pallet against the back of the suitcase. All of that was covered by the cloth lining of the suitcase and was not detectable without the removal of that cloth lining and the steel bar.
Subsequent testings and admissions of fact filed as an exhibit in the court proceeding establish conclusively that the organic material secreted in the suitcase was heroin.

Bhalru arrested Pandher for smuggling narcotics into Canada. Subsequently, the second suitcase was X-rayed with the same result. A second wooden, black-material-covered pallet was found similarly secreted behind a steel bar and covered by the lining of that suitcase.

The admissions of fact also establish that the two suitcases contained four kilograms of heroin. Evidence at trial further established that each suitcase contained about two kilograms of heroin and that the packaging secreted in each suitcase also weighed about two kilograms.

After being read his Charter rights by the RCMP officers who took over the investigation from the CBSA after his arrest.

ACCORDING to the oral reasons for judgment posted on Thursday, the only defence raised by Pandher was his denial of any knowledge of the existence of the heroin in his suitcases at any time before he was advised by Bhalru that narcotics had been found. Pandher asserted that lack of knowledge throughout, both to the police and in his testimony at this trial.

According to the judgement, on March 16, 2010, Pandher provided a voluntary statement in which he told RCMP Constable Robert Harris, who was the file coordinator on the investigation, of his meeting with Manji Makhan in India, his purchase of the suitcases, his attendance at the Kabaddi tournament, and his belief that Makhan must have used the time when he had the rented vehicle and suitcases in his possession that day to put the heroin in the suitcases.

He told Harris that he believed K.S. Makhan, Manji Makhan’s brother, was involved in importing heroin and also that he had heard a story that K.S. Makhan was involved in the beating of a woman who had refused to take drugs in her suitcases.

After the interview, Pandher called Harris and gave the addresses of the two Makhan brothers who lived side by side in homes in Surrey.

Subsequent investigations shortly thereafter by Harris confirmed that Pandher had given correct addresses and also that K.S. Makhan was likely involved in international drug smuggling under the alias Kuldip Singh Takhar.

His investigation also confirmed that Takhar has been a suspect in the kidnapping and assault in the matter of the beating of a woman who had refused to carry drugs in her suitcase for him as Harris had been told of by Pandher.

Charges had, however, not been pursued against Takhar and Harris did not follow up further with the investigators in that case in relation to the charges against Pandher.

Later, Harris learned from his perusal of other documented police investigations that there was a file reporting similar circumstances to those of Pandher in about May of 2010.

The report stated that after being arrested for the importing of heroin in his luggage, of which he claimed to have no knowledge, Hardev Sihota reported to the police that he had been threatened with death by Takhar, who said he would end up like a missing person by the name of Sandhu.

Harris did not follow up on the particulars of the Sihota complaint notwithstanding his own determination that the circumstances appeared to be similar to those alleged by Pandher and also involved K.S. Makhan / Takhar.

Sometime after June of 2010, Harris created a profile of Takhar and concluded that based on the documented information, Takhar was capable of the level of violence stated by Pandher, including death threats, and that Pandher’s fears for his safety were founded.

The judge noted: “Surprisingly, the full details of the Sihota matter, including the name of the complainant, were not disclosed to the Crown by the police until January 8, 2013, that being five days before this trial was due to commence. The information was then provided by the Crown to counsel for Mr. Pandher only three days before the trial.”

Harris testified that he had not appreciated the relevance of the full extent of the documentation of Takhar’s criminality and, more specifically, the Sihota matter after first disclosure was made on the file in June of 2010.

The judge noted: “Constable Harris gave that explanation notwithstanding his conclusion that Pandher’s fears for his safety were founded and his observation in the disclosure that was finally made, that the police documentation had “led him to determine that Takhar was involved in drug trafficking on an international scale and capable of what Pandher had stated.””

THE judge said: “The Crown submitted that the entirety of Mr. Pandher’s testimony should be rejected because it defies credulity when weighed against the totality of the evidence led by the Crown.
“Based upon all of those convenient and implausible circumstances, the Crown says I should disbelieve Mr. Pandher’s evidence in its entirety and find him guilty of importing heroin and possession of it for the purpose of trafficking.

“I do not accept those submissions.”

He concluded: “I find that the inadequate investigation of the circumstances of the Sihota matter when seen in light of Constable Harris’ conclusions about the capability of Takhar doing what Mr. Pandher said, coupled with the failure of the Crown to otherwise rebut the long known defence of lack of knowledge advanced by Mr. Pandher, must result in a finding of reasonable doubt on the issue of Mr. Pandher’s actual knowledge or wilful blindness to the existence of heroin in the suitcases when he came into Canada.”

He added: “In summary, while I do not necessarily believe Mr. Pandher’s evidence, that evidence, when considered in light of the totality of the evidence, the existence of the Sihota similarities, and the failure to further investigate those similarities or otherwise rebut Mr. Pandher’s long-known assertions, leads me to conclude that the Crown has failed to prove Mr. Pandher’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt on either of the offences for which he is charged.”

Full judgment:http://www.courts.gov.bc.ca/jdb-txt/SC/14/03/2014BCSC0367.htm