A long-haul transport truck driver dipped into the 30 kilos of cocaine he was smuggling into Canada, opening one of the bricks hidden among California oranges, snorting it, and then resealing the package during his four-day drive, which may explain his strange behaviour at the border.
Crossing from Detroit into Windsor with his paperwork in order, he told border agents there was nothing but oranges in his truck — but then added that a man had tried to recruit him to smuggle drugs and maybe next time he could agree so the government could arrest the guy.
His truck was searched and the cocaine found; he was arrested, convicted, sentenced, and faces likely deportation, but then appealed the court decision, an effort denied Tuesday by Ontario’s court of appeal.
Manpreet Singh Dhatt’s life changed in the pre-dawn hours of Dec. 27, 2016, when the long-haul driver from Mississauga pulled his refrigerated transport truck up to the primary commercial inspection booth at the Ambassador Bridge and spoke to a Canada Border Services Agency officer.
He gave the border agent his commercial paperwork, his identification, and an E-manifest that showed his load was oranges.
He then volunteered that he had information about a person who had been pressing him to smuggle goods into Canada, according to court records. Dhatt said he was prepared to say “yes next time. Then you can arrest everyone involved at once, so they don’t think I was part of it.”
Dhatt was directed to drive his truck to a CBSA lot to speak with an investigator. There he was specifically asked if he was smuggling anything.
“No. Nothing. No problems,” he said, according to testimony, and he backed his trailer in for inspection.
In a space between the 19 skids of 40-pound boxes of oranges he had picked up in Parlier, California, agents found 30 bricks of cocaine. Court heard the illicit part of his load was 94-per-cent pure and had a value ranging from $1.95 million, if sold at the wholesale level, to $4.8 million, if cut and sold by the gram at the retail level
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At his trial, Dhatt admitted he had cocaine in his vehicle when he tried to cross the border from the United States into Canada but claimed he was smuggling the cocaine under threat.
He said a man he knew proposed smuggling for a $10,000 payout. When he declined the man said he had already told suppliers in the U.S. that he would do it — and they were “angry” and “dangerous.”
Dhatt said he was told to drive to a specific truck stop in California after he picked up his oranges and park his truck. As he waited in his truck, he said, he saw two men go into his trailer. When they left, he was told to buy a new seal at the truck stop and place it on his trailer, which he did.
He drove on but when it was starting to get dark, he pulled into another highway truck stop and opened his trailer, found the wrapped bricks, and took one into his truck cab.
He bought a razor blade and duct tape, cut one open, sniffed a line of the packed white powder, and taped the brick back up.
He later told court he believed he was coming clean at the border and offering to work with agents to arrest the “bad guys.” He said he was waiting to speak with an investigator to make a plan to bust the smugglers. He never got that far. He was arrested and taken to a holding cell.
Prosecutors attacked his testimony, saying he was doing it for quick money. Court was shown text messages from Dhatt to his wife saying she would have a new car in a week.
While Dhatt’s unusual talking at the border played a part in dooming his venture, it was not a confession or turning himself in, prosecutors said, because he declared he wasn’t smuggling drugs but could help officials in the future find someone who was.
The judge rejected his defence of duress, saying the evidence proved he had accepted the cocaine, driven it on his own for several days, and had even opened, inspected, and ingested some of it on his trip.
He knowingly arrived at the border crossing and had ample opportunity to contact police ahead of time. Instead, he seemed to get “cold feet” at the border and try to deflect onto someone else.
Dhatt was convicted in 2020 of importing cocaine into Canada, possession of cocaine for the purpose of trafficking, and then sentenced to 10 years, less his time in custody awaiting trial.
The trial judge considered as mitigating factors that he was a first-time offender who faced likely deportation to India when released from prison. Aggravating factors included the use of a commercial vehicle, driving under the influence of cocaine, and the large quantity and high quality of the drugs.
Dhatt appealed his conviction and his sentence, this time representing himself in court.
He argued the trial judge was wrong to dismiss his defence of duress and claimed he couldn’t be convicted of smuggling because the cocaine was seized by border agents before he was admitted into Canada.
The Court of Appeal for Ontario denied his pleas on Tuesday.
A panel of three judges rejected the idea he acted under duress and that someone caught at a border checkpoint with drugs had not smuggled them into the country.
“There is no sense in which he did not bring, or cause the cocaine to be brought, into Canada. This was not a case where there can be any controversy over whether the appellant was involved in the physical element of the offence,” Benjamin Zarnett wrote on behalf of the court.
The judges rejected his appeal of both his conviction and his sentence.
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