By Surbhi Gogia
Most of us have heard about the law of attraction that says, when you really desire something from the heart, you get it. Famous author Paulo Coelho in his book The Alchemist says, “when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” The life story of Superintendent Dave Chauhan, newly appointed officer-in-charge of Integrated Homicide Investigation Team (IHIT) is an amazing example of this powerful law. He was just 15 years old, living a humble life in a farming family of India, when he first came across a picture of a tall guy from some distant country wearing red uniform. He did not know who that person was but something about that image stuck in Chauhan’s mind. Who would have imagined that the little Indian boy, who once innocently admired an unknown RCMP officer and his uniform, would one day not only wear the same uniform with pride but also lead that once distant country’s largest homicide investigation squad. His position places him at the front of a multi-jurisdictional team of investigators, analysts and civilians which includes police officers from the RCMP, Abbotsford, New Westminster, Port Moody and West Vancouver police departments.
During his career as an RCMP officer, Chauhan has played important role in investigating high profile crime cases. He was also the lead investigator of the infamous murder case of Jaswinder (Jassi) Sidhu the girl who was murdered in India for marrying a Rickshaw driver. Justice for Jassie was delayed due to prolonged legal battle but finally delivered due to dedicated people. Supt. Chauhan was one of them and instrumental in seeking extradition of Jassi’s mother and uncle Malkit Sidhu and Surjit Badesha — the two BC residents accused in the case.
Chauhan came to Canada in 1985 from Punjab under tragic circumstances when he lost his father. With limited means he started his life and lived in various provinces. He delivered newspapers, worked odd jobs to financially support his family before he was finally introduced to RCMP. He joined the RCMP on March 31, 1991. After completion of his training, he was posted to Prince George Detachment where he worked in several sections including Drug Investigation Unit and Serious Crime Unit. In 2005, he moved with his family to the Lower Mainland to take a posting with BC RCMP’s Major Crime Section – Serious Crime Unit.
In 2008, he was promoted to Sergeant and worked in E Division Major Crime Section – Criminal Investigation Unit, in charge of the Provincial DNA Coordination Program where he implemented several programs to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the DNA program in the province. In 2013, he returned to the Serious Crime Unit and in 2015 was promoted to Staff Sergeant of Surrey Detachment’s Major Crime Section where he led a number of high profile shooting investigations with successful prosecutions. In 2017, he was promoted to Inspector and moved to IHIT as the Operations Support Officer.
He officially took on his new role on June 27 replacing Superintendent Donna Richardson. In an interview with Desi Today, Officer Chauhan shares his inspiring journey, his struggles in an alien land when he came from India and what kept him going during difficult times.
- Our readers would love to know about your life. Could you please tell us about your family, your childhood and your growing up days in India?
I was born in Cuttuck, Orissa and am the youngest of four brothers and two sisters. At a very young age, my family relocated to the village of Mallpur (then District Jalandhar), now District Nawanshahr. We belong to a farming family and as a child growing up in the village, I helped out with all farming duties from planting and harvesting different crops such as wheat, corn, potatoes and sugarcane. I attended elementary school in Nawanshahr. Growing up in a family of farmers was tough work. Everything was done with physical labour, sometimes working in intense heat, but I knew that I had to contribute and help my father and brothers with farm work. I enjoyed my time with my friends from the village and the school. I was very active in playing Cricket and was the Captain of my Team. I have very fond memories of hanging around with my friends and enjoying my childhood years with them.
- When and what circumstances brought you to Canada?
Tragedy struck when I lost my father and a brother to a farming accident. I was about 12-years-old when this happened. My older sister had immigrated to Canada several years prior to this incident. She had submitted sponsorship papers for myself, my older brother and my mother to come to Canada. At the age of 15, the three of us came to Canada. My mother stayed with us for a few years, and then returned to India to take care of other siblings and to manage farming operations.
- Please tell us about your early life in Canada. Did you find it difficult to adjust to new culture, language etc? What were some of the challenges that you faced and what motivated you to survive and grow?
My first year in Canada was in Calgary where I was enrolled in Grade 9 at a high school. The first year in Canada was particularly difficult to adjust into a new society. There was the language barrier because I didn’t have a strong command of the English language so I was enrolled in English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. I also had to deal with some harsh socio-economic factors at that time. The economy wasn’t doing well in 1985. I recall interest rates at that time were in double digits. It was financially difficult for my sister to support three additional family members, as she was the only breadwinner. It was also a particularly difficult time for me in school as I was subjected to racism and bullying at the hands of some students at the time. However, I was not going to let financial hardships or problems at school weigh me down. My father had instilled strong values in me to never give up in the face of challenges and to always work hard and put extra effort into my work. I quickly found employment delivering newspapers and throughout my high school years, worked at various places to financially support myself. I also had some very nice teachers, guidance councillors and new friends who assisted me with assimilating into my new country.
- Did you always dream of becoming an RCMP officer? When was the firm time you realized you want to be part of this organization?
When I was growing up in the village, I remember receiving a post card from my sister in Canada. I remember the picture on the postcard was of tall men wearing a red police uniform. To a little kid, these uniformed officers looked like giants. I was so impressed with that photo that it was embedded into my memory, but I never imagined that one day I would be part of this police organization. It was in 1991, while I was attending University in Kitchener, Waterloo that I had the opportunity to attend a recruitment session by the RCMP. This was the second time I had seen an RCMP officer wearing the red uniform, but this time it was in person. I was very much drawn to the uniform and decided to write the entrance exam. And, here I am with having completed 27 years of my service with the RCMP.
- There are various roles an RCMP officer could get into, how and why did you get involve with crime investigations? What are some of the everyday challenges you face while investigating high-profile cases?
I have been fortunate to work in so many sections within the RCMP from frontline policing to Traffic, Property Crime, Drug Investigations, Serious Crime, and Major Crimes. It was the challenge of working on the toughest cases to solve them and bringing that closure to the victim’s families that has kept my interest in serious and major crime investigations. When working on high-profile cases, or any case that has impact on the safety of our citizens, there is a tremendous amount of pressure to arrest and charge the perpetrators. Some police cases do get resolved quickly, but when the victim is an innocent person with no ties to criminal elements, those investigations can take a long time as it is often difficult to determine who has the motive to target the victim. Public safety is of paramount concern for the police and we ensure that all efforts are put in to address safety concerns while we continue to focus on our investigations. The nature of police work is such that we have to gather all relevant evidence to meet the high threshold of the BC Prosecution Service to seek charge approval. The evidence gathering stage sometimes can take months, if not years to collect. There are times when leads dry-out and progress on the case is halted or it will go to unsolved homicides unit. Regardless, the file remains open. We always encourage the public to share any information they may have to assist the police in advancing their cases.
- During your days as an RCMP officer, you were also part of Surrey’s crime section. You must have observed the city very closely and the gang problems? What are your thoughts on it? How do you think Surrey can get over with this problem?
In 2015, I landed at Surrey Detachment as the Staff Sergeant in charge of its Major Crime Section. That was a very tough year for shooting incidents in Surrey. I believe at one point we had eight shooting incidents in the span of a few weeks. These were complex investigations, but our teams worked diligently on many of these investigations and secured multiple convictions on people who were posing threats to our citizens. Surrey Detachment has various robust crime prevention programs that include anti-gang interventions and support for youth and parents dealing with gang-related issues. Let’s also not lose sight of the fact that the gang problem is not exclusive to any one city but it exists in every community. As a society, we are all obligated to have that positive engagement with our youth (boys and girls) from a very early age, so they have an understanding of the pit-falls and dangers of being engaged with criminals.
- You were also heading Jassi’s murder case? We would love to hear from you, how did that case come to you? It was several years’ long judicial battle before you could seek extradition of her relatives. What were some of the challenges you faced during this case’s investigation? Was there ever a time you wanted to give up?
Jassi Sidhu case is now before the Indian court, so I am limited by what I can share in regards to this tragic case. What I can say is that Jassi was killed while visiting India on June 8, 2000. I was still in Prince George when this incident happened. I moved to the BCRCMP Headquarters Major Crime Section in 2005 and two years later in 2007, I was appointed as the lead investigator of the case. There were challenges as the investigational boundaries extended between India and Canada. There were many legal requirements that differentiated between the two countries. I travelled to India in 2007 and 2008 and worked with the Indian Police and Prosecution services to ensure all evidentiary and legal requirements for extradition met the legal standards required by the Canadian Courts. The two Canadian accused were arrested in Canada in 2012, however, the judicial proceedings through BC Supreme Court, BC Court of Appeal and ultimately Supreme Court of Canada took many years before theywere extradited to India in January 2019 for prosecution in the murder case of Jassi.
- Was it hard to liaise with Indian authorities? How was the whole experience? Most difficult or memorable point during investigation?
It was not difficult at all to liaise with the Indian authorities. During my first trip in 2007, I met with the original police officer, Supt. Swaran Singh and was able to form a strong working relationship with him. I also met the assigned prosecutor at the time and also had a very good relationship with her. We all understood our respective roles of evidence sharing and worked well together to ensure the extradition process was legally sound. Most difficult moments were working in India for a month in extreme heat in June and July of 2007. The temperatures soared to above 50 degrees Celsius while I worked in New Delhi and travelled throughout many Districts in Punjab. One time, I was the passenger driving back from Sangrur to Chandigarh after meeting with the Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) there, and a drunk driver travelling at a high rate of speed collided head on with my vehicle. Luckily, I was in a SUV type vehicle with seat belts on. I was shaken up a bit but otherwise fine. The most memorable moment was to land in New Delhi and turn over the custody of the two Canadian accused to the Punjab Police.
- Now as an IHIT officer-in-charge, how would you define the importance and role of the organization like IHIT?
IHIT was formed 16 years ago with the mandate to investigate the most complex cases involving homicides. We have been providing excellent policing services to our 28 RCMP Detachment Partners and four Municipal Police Departments. IHIT has an excellent model and structure in place where all the resources and expertise are housed under one roof to effectively and efficiently investigate homicide cases. We have some of the very best, dedicated and talented investigators from the RCMP and municipal police forces as well as excellent civilian support staff who continuously do exemplary work and produce excellent results in seeking charges and convictions against those who perpetrate violent crime against others.
- Many young immigrants who would be inspired to by your story. What is your message to them?
Never give in to temptations of going down the wrong path and never back away from any challenge. If someone like me who came to this country at the age of 15 can persevere and overcome all hardships and difficulties that came along the way and to realize so many of my goals, then anything is possible for our young immigrants. Just stay focused as success comes with hard work and time.
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