A former South Surrey border guard who helped smuggle an “enormous” amount of cocaine through the Pacific Highway border crossing has been sentenced to 15 years in jail for the crime.
Baljinder Kandola, a Cloverdale resident, learned his fate Friday morning in B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster. Justice Selwyn Romilly sentenced Kandola’s co-accused, Richmond resident Shminder Johal, to 18 years.
In written reasons for sentence, Romilly noted he had “very few mitigating factors to consider.”
Describing Kandola as the “facilitator” of the operation, and Johal as the “overseer,” Romilly cited Kandola’s breach of trust and the fact he accepted bribes from Johal as among aggravating factors in determining sentence.
The pair’s only motivation appeared to be greed, he said.
In a sentencing hearing earlier this week, prosecutor James Torrance argued both men should get 20 years for the scheme.
“This case is about the corruption of a CBSA (Canada Border Services Agency) officer and the importation of an enormous amount of cocaine,” Torrance said Monday.
Defense lawyer James Sutherland had suggested a 15-year term.
“It’s a difficult day,” Sutherland told Peace Arch News after sentencing.
Neither Kandola, 40, or Johal, 38, addressed the court personally when given the opportunity by Romilly.
“I’m advised by Mr. Kandola he does not have anything to say,” Sutherland told the judge.
Outside court, Sutherland explained that Kandola “felt everything that could be said on his behalf had been said.”
Attendees in court to support the men would not comment on the sentence.
Both Kandola and Johal were found guilty June 29 on multiple drug- and bribery-related charges – including conspiracy to import cocaine and importation of cocaine – stemming from their arrest in 2007.
They were arrested – along with Richmond resident Herman Riar – on Oct. 25, 2007, after police found 11 boxes with 208 bricks of cocaine worth more than $5 million inside a GMC Yukon Denali that passed unchecked through the South Surrey truck border crossing into Canada.
While Sutherland had argued that, as a “mere facilitator,” his client’s role in the scheme “should be considered less significant than that of Johal,” Romilly disagreed.
“The level of sophistication indicates that both Kandola and Johal knew the risk they were taking in pursuing the importation scheme,” said. “This is particularly so for Kandola who was employed in a role that was dedicated to preventing the very activity he was convicted of.”
Kandola played “a pivotal role,” Romilly said.
According to evidence heard at trial, Johal and Riar headed for the border in two vehicles, with Johal in the lead and Riar following, acting as the “transporter” with the drugs in his vehicle.
They timed their trips so Kandola would be the officer on duty, and he waved them through.
Police believe the conspirators made several trips between May 2006 and the day of the arrests.
Evidence indicated Kandola pocketed at least $10,000 for turning a blind eye to the smuggling, including $4,000 worth of work to upgrade his car, a Mini Cooper.
Riar, described as a “minor player” in the scheme, pleaded guilty and was sentenced in 2010 to 12 years in jail.
A fourth man, Vancouver resident Charles Lai, was arrested in March 2008 in the U.S. as the alleged leader of the smuggling scheme. He was sentenced to 13 years by a U.S. District Court judge in 2009.
In determining Kandola’s sentence, Romilly considered the analysis of the judge who sentenced Daniel Greenhalgh last year. Greenhalgh, who was a South SUrrey border guard at the Douglas (Peace Arch) crossing, is serving two years for sexual assault and breach of trust in connection with incidents that occurred while he was on duty in 2007.
Justice Frits Verhoeven found Greenhalgh “deliberately and repeatedly abused his power and authority” in committing the offences.
“He was not merely dishonest. He did not merely breach his duties out of negligence. He knowingly, flagrantly and repeatedly betrayed the trust which he had been given and that he had voluntarily accepted…”
Romilly described Verhoeven’s “analysis of the approach to be taken when dealing with a border services officer who has abused his or her position in order to commit a criminal offence applies equally in this case.”
“BSOs, like police officers, occupy a special position of trust in the community,” Romilly states. “They are charged with a foundational role in preventing dangerous substances from entering the country. When they abuse their position and seek to profit by criminal activities, all of Canadian society is put at risk.”
Both Kandola, who is married and has one young child, and Johal, who is a father of three, were credited for time served. Kandola received one month credit; Johal, two months.
Kandola’s sentence included two concurrent 14-year terms for conspiracy to import cocaine and importation of cocaine, plus two concurrent one-year terms for breach of trust and accepting a benefit with intent to facilitate the offence of importing cocaine.
Johal’s 18 years include two concurrent 16-year terms for conspiracy to import cocaine and importation of cocaine, plus two years for importation of firearms to be serves concurrently with a one-year term for bribery of a border services officer.
Both men were also handed 10-year prohibitions from possessing firearms and ammunition, and lifetime bans from possessing restricted or prohibited weapons.
Romilly ordered cash seized from Johal’s home – $223,880 – forfeited to the Crown; he also ordered both Johal and Kandola to submit a DNA sample.
– with files from Dan Ferguson