B.C. Court of Appeal rejects former border guard Baljinder Kandola’s sentence appeal

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THE B.C. Court of Appeal has rejected former border guard Baljinder Singh Kandola’s sentence appeal in a ruling released Monday.

Kandola was convicted in 2012 of conspiracy to import cocaine, importation of cocaine, breach of trust by facilitating importation of cocaine, and accepting a benefit while employed as a Border Services Officer with intent to facilitate the commission of the offence of importation of cocaine.

[In October 2007, it was announced that a joint investigation by RCMP E Division Border Integrity, Major Crime and the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) had led to the arrest of Kandola, then 35, of Surrey, a six-year CBSA Surrey officer. The 13-month RCMP Border Integrity breach of trust investigation began after receiving information that Kandola was allowing vehicles unfettered access to Canada through the Pacific Commercial Port of entry while he had direct personal knowledge that the vehicles carried contraband shipments. On October 25, 2007, a multi-department RCMP / CBSA takedown assisted by the RCMP Emergency Response Team was executed immediately after Kandola knowingly allowed Shminder Singh Johal in one vehicle and Herman Riar in a second vehicle to pass through the Pacific Commercial Port of entry, according to the RCMP and CBSA. Johal and Riar were also charged. Riar was sentenced in January 2010 to 12 years in jail after he pled guilty. In June 2009, Vancouver businessman Charles Lai, then 43, was sentenced to13 years in an American jail for his part in trafficking the cocaine seized at the Canadian border. Lai was arrested in March, 2008, when he was seized by U.S. authorities from a cruise ship in Miami, Florida. He pled guilty to drug trafficking. As part of his plea agreement, Lai forfeited $250,000 to the U.S. government.]

Kandola was sentenced to 15 years in jail. Kandola was now seeking a reduction in his sentence to 13 years. He argued that the judge erred by refusing to permit him an adjournment for the purposes of obtaining a pre-sentence report. Second, he argued the sentence imposed was demonstrably unfit as being disproportionate to the degree of his moral culpability and offended the principle of parity when compared to the 12-year sentence of one of his co-conspirators.

Regarding the lack of a pre-sentence report, Justice Nicole Garson noted: “Mr. Kandola does not point to any factor that such a report might have revealed that was not already before the judge. I must therefore conclude that counsel for the accused put before the sentencing judge all that could be said about Mr. Kandola in mitigation of his sentence. The judge offered to provide a short adjournment to permit counsel to obtain further materials for sentencing, but this offer was declined by Mr. Kandola.

“By the time of the sentencing hearing, the judge had heard 41 days of evidence and submissions at trial, including testimony in which Mr. Kandola described his own background and involvement in the conspiracy in some detail. The judge was well aware of any factors in Mr. Kandola’s background that might have mitigated his sentence. The judge accepted that Mr. Kandola was a relatively young first-time offender who succumbed to temptation. That he was a good candidate for rehabilitation was not in doubt. Nor was his previously unblemished lifestyle. What influenced the judge to impose a very long sentence was the fact that this was an offence involving both corruption in public office and importation of cocaine. A pre-sentence report would not have affected the outcome in this case. I would not accede to this first ground of appeal.”

Regarding the fitness of the sentence, the judge noted: “Mr. Kandola points to his previous unblemished record as a mitigating factor. There is no doubt that the result of his embarking on this criminal venture is a personal tragedy for him and his family. But principles of general deterrence factored heavily in the sentencing judge’s mind, and correctly so. In my view, corruption by a public official, while thankfully rare, is indeed a crime deserving of a very severe sanction. As a border guard, Mr. Kandola occupied a special position of trust in his community and in his workplace. The type of corruption evidenced by this case has a corrosive effect not just on his former colleagues, but also on public trust in law enforcement.”

The judge added: “Public confidence in the administration of justice requires severe sanctions in the rare instances when a law enforcement officer does succumb to such temptation. In Mr. Kandola’s case, the combination of importing cocaine, which leads to untold misery for those addicted, combined with the abuse of trust while facilitating illegal importation of cocaine, the very task with which he was entrusted to deter, must lead to a lengthy sentence. It cannot be said, on review of the cases already mentioned, that the total sentence is outside the range of sentences imposed in similar cases while adjusting for the specific circumstances of the appellant or is disproportionate to his overall culpability.”


Full ruling: