A married couple who committed a chain of corrupt acts to stop a Port Coquitlam couple from giving evidence in court recently had their appeals rejected.
Some elements of their appeal seemed to have no merit while one argument bordered “on the fanciful,” according to B.C. Court of Appeal Justice Gregory Fitch.
Amarjit Dhanda and Sikander Narwal were each convicted of attempting to obstruct justice in 2019 following an escalating conflict that stemmed from a personal injury case.
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In 2016, while in the process of claiming injuries from a car crash, Dhanda reached out to friend Gurjit Gill, according to Gill’s evidence.
“She tried to keep convincing me to lie for her to ICBC,” Gill testified.
Gill said she refused to lie for Dhanda.
In May 2017, Gill’s home was vandalized.
“Feces was smeared over the garage door and the house was pelted with eggs,” according to the judgment.
Gill and her husband, Parminder Dutt, later found the exterior valve for the gas line into their home had been turned off and wires to an old telephone power box that once serviced the property had been cut.
They reported seeing Dhanda and Narwal’s children driving by their home multiple times that day.
May 29, 2017
During the early hours of May 29, 2017, Gill and Dutt, as well as their nephew and niece, saw Sarabjit Dhanda, Amarjit Dhanda’s brother, walking up to their Port Coquitlam home carrying a knife.
Gill alerted her husband, who got in his car and followed Sarabjit.
Sarabjit was driven away by an unknown man, according to the decision.
On two occasions, Sarabjit got out of the car and confronted Dutt with a knife and a hammer.
“Dutt wisely discontinued the pursuit,” Justice Fitch wrote.
The vehicle Sarabjit was riding in headed back to Gill’s house. At that point, Gill was on the phone with police.
Police eventually stopped the vehicle to find Sarabjit driving. Two hammers were found in the vehicle. Sarabjit was charged with assault with a weapon and held at North Fraser Pretrial Centre.
The next morning, an unidentified man showed up at Gill’s house.
While keeping one hand in his pocket, he told Gill not to talk to the police.
“He mentioned something about bullets, the complainants’ three children, and the school they attended,” according to the judgment.
Gill told her husband, Dutt.
Dutt reached to Sikander Narwal, Sarabjit’s brother-in-law and Amarjit Dhanda’s husband.
Narwal met with Gill and Dutt on the night of May 29, 2017.
According to Gill’s evidence, Narwal asked Gill why she didn’t help out his wife with her ICBC case.
He then told her if she took back her statement about Sarabjit, “I will make this all stop,” adding that things would only get worse if they didn’t.
Dutt’s testimony was similar to his wife’s.
“He said I can make everything stop. Just take your statements back,” Dutt testified.
When Gill asked about Sarabjit coming back to their property, Narwal said: “Oh, Sarabjit wouldn’t come with a knife, he’d come with a gun,” she testified.
At the end of the May 29 meeting, Gill and Dutt agreed to retract their statements.
After the meeting
Gill and Dutt phoned an RCMP constable and said they didn’t want to move ahead with the assault charge against Sarabjit.
However, the constable told them the charges had been sent to the Crown for approval and advised they speak to the lead investigator, who was set to be away for the next few days.
Dutt told Narwal they had to wait until the lead investigator was back.
Displeased with the delay, Narwal told Gill that Sarabjit was “getting upset,” and that if they didn’t listen to him, “he’s not responsible for our safety.”
With Sarabjit scheduled for a court appearance on June 8, Dutt went to the courthouse and tried to speak with crown counsel. When that fell through, Dutt wrote a note explaining he didn’t want to be a witness and was recanting his testimony.
Dutt testified that Narwal told him to write the note.
After writing the note, Dutt said he told Narwal: “I’ve done my part; you do yours.”
Sarabjit was held at North Fraser Pretrial Centre from May 29 to Sept. 7, 2017, during which time police got an order to listen to several of his phone calls.
In the audio recordings, which are a mix of Punjabi and English, Dhanda told her brother that Gill and Dutt were retracting their statements.
During one call, which included Narwal, Sarabjit and Dhanda; Dhanda told her husband that Dutt had to say, “he was mistaken, that it was someone else.”
Sarabjit instructed Narwal to tell Gill and Dutt: “If there’s any problems, they won’t be spared.”
Both Gill and Dutt testified, “that they were fearful of reprisals if they did not recant their statements to police” regarding Sarabjit’s assault charge.
“It was that fear that motivated them to recant,” concluded Judge Diana Dorey in her 2019 judgment.
Sarabjit eventually pleaded guilty to assault with a weapon as well as obstruction of justice.
Narwal’s side of the story
Narwal and Dhanda were arrested on June 24, 2018.
As he was being booked, Narwal said he wanted to speak with police and tell his side of the story.
A transcription of the subsequent of the interview was 99 pages long and “not easily summarized,” Justice Fitch wrote.
During the interview, Narwal said the May 29 meeting with Dutt and Gill was held because their children had been fighting.
During that meeting, Dutt and Gill “spontaneously offered to ‘take the case back,” according to Narwal. In turn, he said he would tell Sarabjit not to fight or argue and that if the statements were recanted: “nothing else would happen.”
He said he went to court with Dutt at Dutt’s invitation. In court, Narwal agreed it was possible he may have told Dutt to write the note to crown counsel.
Narwal said he didn’t threaten anyone, nor did he know anything about threats behind made to Gill.
When asked if he ever spoke with Sarabjit while his brother-in-law was incarcerated, Narwal said: “I don’t remember.”
Narwal’s appeal was based, in part, on that statement to police. His counsel contended the trial judge failed to take Narwal’s statement into account as clearing him from guilt. Dhanda’s appeal also relied on that contention.
Justice Fitch did not agree.
Narwal’s statement: “reflects not only a general evasiveness and cat-and-mouse strategy,” but also includes remarks that “defy common sense,” Fitch wrote.
“The claim that the May 29 meeting was to resolve problems between the kids borders on the fanciful,” Fitch wrote.
There was substantial evidence, including the intercepted phone calls that: “had everything to do with dissuading” Gill and Dutt from giving evidence, “and nothing to do with childish pranks,” Fitch concluded.
Following the May 29 meeting, Narwal said he’d told Gill and Dutt he didn’t care if they recanted their statement to police.
Narwal’s presence at the courthouse ahead of Sarabjit’s court appearance suggested: “he very much cared about whether his brother-in-law was prosecuted,” Fitch wrote.
Fitch also noted the trial judge, rather than ignoring Narwal’s statement to police, referred to that statement “several times” in her judgment.
“The judge gave substantive consideration to whether Mr. Narwal’s statement raised a reasonable doubt about his guilt. The judge concluded that it did not,” Fitch wrote.
Narwal argued the trial judge gave insufficient reasons for concluding his statement to police was concocted.
“I see no merit in this ground of appeal,” Fitch wrote, stating that Narwal’s version of events was inconsistent with evidence from Gill and Dutt.
“It was also inconsistent with any reasonable interpretation of the events that followed,” Fitch wrote.
Ultimately, Narwal “failed to point to anything” that would reasonably lend credibility to the idea the trial judge was dismissive of evidence that would have helped the defense.
Two justices concurred with Fitch’s decision to dismiss the appeal.