VANCOUVER - Thirteen years have passed since a young Maple Ridge, B.C. woman was brutally slain in India after travelling there to reunite with the man she had secretly married against her family's wishes — too much time to allow second-hand testimony about the crime to be considered reliable in court, a lawyer argues.
Jaswinder "Jassi" Sidhu's mother, Malkit Kaur Sidhu, and uncle, Surjit Singh Badesha, are facing extradition to India, where they are charged with murder conspiracy related to Jassi's death in June 2000. The young woman's co-workers and friends have testified she feared for her life because her family disapproved of her secret marriage to a poor rickshaw driver in India.
Badesha's lawyer, Michael Klein, argued Thursday the hearsay evidence should not be admitted in court because there are inconsistencies between testimonies, and some of the witnesses admitted having trouble remembering their conversations with Sidhu.
"Some of these witnesses concede they're not precise about the exact language," Klein told the court. "Some of them agree they're relating to the gist of what they heard. Some people cannot recall details."
In May, some of Sidhu's co-workers from the beauty salon where she worked testified she told them about her secret marriage. Sidhu told them that her family threatened and beat her after they found out about it.
But Klein argued on Thursday it's unclear whether the recollections are from actual conversations with Sidhu, or from conversations the friends had with each other about Sidhu's family situation.
It is also possible that the witnesses' testimony has been tainted by media reports, Klein said.
Sidhu's murder in India in 2000 made international news, prompting a documentary and a book and the establishment of an advocacy group. Sidhu's beaten body was found in a village in Punjab after what Indian authorities said was an honour killing. Her husband was also beaten, but survived.
On Thursday, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Gregory Fitch challenged Klein on why he hadn't questioned the witnesses back in May if he suspected that their testimony was tainted by what they've seen, heard or participated in after Sidhu's death.
Klein answered that he believed Sidhu's co-workers were earnest in giving their evidence and that they would deny any suggestions of contaminated accounts.
"I don't know that the answer to the confrontation, or being confronted with that suggestion, would be necessary in these circumstances when the likely answer is going to be, 'No, I don't agree that television contaminated my recollection,'" the lawyer said.
Klein also questioned the reliability of Sidhu's accounts to her friends. Several co-workers testified before that Sidhu was coerced by her uncle into signing a legal document saying she was forced to marry her husband.
Jody Wright testified earlier that Sidhu said she was held by the neck at the notary's office — an event Klein said is unlikely.
Wright also said she called the police twice because Sidhu was locked in her bedroom against her will, but she never heard back from the authorities.
Klein said if it was true that Sidhu was being forceably confined, "the police would probably have done something about that."
"The alternative is that the declarant was not telling the truth about being locked in the bedroom," he said.
"And if the police arrived and determined that, it may go a long way to explain why Jody Wright never heard anything from the police again about that."
Co-worker Tamara Lamirande told the court in May that when Sidhu said she was going to India to reunite with her husband, she described a lawless country where "you could pay somebody $200 Canadian and they would kill someone because they were so poor."
"Is it plausible to describe a place where life is cheap, and then demonstrate a clear intention to go to that location?" Klein said.
"Maybe that is explained by love conquers all, but it may just simply be an example of the declarant giving exaggerated statements."
Both federal government lawyers and the lawyer representing Sidhu's mother have argued that the second-hand evidence presented during the extradition hearing should be admitted.
Fitch is expected to make a decision on its admissibility.
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