Insiders called it a cult. To others, it was a family — until it turned on itself

They lived, prayed and worked together, until allegations of assault, sexual abuse, death threats and gun violations tore The Family apart.

Hamilton Spectator, Canada/February 22, 2023

By Susan Clairmont

They were once a family.

They lived in a mansion. They prayed together. They cooked and ate and did chores together. They worked side by side and shared their earnings and expenses. They cared for one another’s children and vacationed together.

Some insiders say it was a cult.

They called it The Family, and a former pizzeria owner and martial arts teacher named Mohan Jarry Ahlowalia was its unlikely charismatic leader.

For decades, the communal living arrangement seemed perfect. Ideal.

Until allegations of sexual and physical assault, death threats, human trafficking, extortion and gun violations tore the Burlington household apart. The ugly accusations pitted Ahlowalia’s followers against each other.

Details of The Family’s strange life became evidence in a long, complicated criminal trial that had Ahlowalia fighting for his freedom.

Thirty charges were laid against him. For three years the case meandered through the justice system. Eventually 14 witnesses testified at a trial that took 57 days spread over a year.

In the end, Ahlowalia was found guilty of absolutely nothing.

The judge eviscerated the Crown’s case.

Key witnesses, she said, were discreditable at best. At worst, some may have colluded to frame their former leader.

The judge even suspected guns were planted in Ahlowalia’s bedroom and car.

“This case turns on the credibility of the witnesses,” Ontario Court Justice Jaki Freeman wrote in her judgment.

The Family, a seeming hub of nurture and love, had turned on itself.

The leader

Followers flocked to Jarry Ahlowalia. Some said they worshipped him like a god.

He considered himself a spiritual leader of the Sikh faith, guiding his followers to a deeper understanding of their lives through his teachings and the studying of the Nitnem. Most people in the home had a copy of that holy book.

Ahlowalia is a trim man, in his early 60s, though his exact age — like his name — seems to vary. Court records suggest he is also called Gerry Aholowalia, Jarry Mohan Ahlowalia, Jarry Awalia, Mohan J. Walia, M.J. Awalia, Jarry Ahlowalia, Mohan Ahuwalia, Jarry A’Walia and Jarry Walia.

He speaks Punjabi and English. He peppers his slow, convoluted speech with F-bombs.

Secret recordings of Ahlowalia made by ex-members of The Family capture his short temper and propensity for shouting insults and crude names at those who irked him.

It was just his nature, thought his followers forgivingly, or perhaps with resignation. Some believed his rants were for their own good because his abuse taught them to be better people.

By 2005, Ahlowalia headed a household of loyal followers — sometimes as many as 30 — who lived with him, his wife Priti and their two grown children in a luxury home on Mount Nemo Crescent in rural Burlington.

Some followers met Ahlowalia through the pizzeria and sub shops he owned. Others, through the Wing Chun Kung Fu, a type of Southern Chinese martial arts he taught. A few were teenagers when they moved into his house and several dropped out of school to be with him.

Ahlowalia routinely imparted his wisdom to The Family with brash confidence. He gathered his followers for “lectures” that could last five fours. Family members filled notebooks with his teachings, delivered with the incantation of a preacher.

“You are here on this earth only for one reason: Explore. Learn,” he says in one lecture, recorded by a former member and likely delivered during a communal meal. “That’s why you’re here. Learn. Learn … ketchup, Tabasco. Do you know how to make tabasco? See. I won’t eat Tabasco unless I know how to make it. I won’t eat ketchup unless I know how to make it. Learn. You are on this planet to learn. People live in ignorance.”

His followers listened silently, taking in his strange lessons. To those on the inside, Ahlowalia was profound. To an outsider, his words are just nonsense. More berating than inspiring.

“So what I feel is, none of you, from day one, is very sincere or loyal in your commitments to live together and enjoy a life together,” he says in another recording. “I think everything is limited and it’s circumstantial … All of you people are very reserved, very secretive. And whatever the f-- you people accuse me of, really, inside of yourself is all of you, the jealousies, the f-- ups. For me, I don’t even put a passcode on my phone. I don’t give a f-- ... I don’t have no secrets. But all you people are all very secretive about all your f--ing bullshit and affairs … But I am not that way. My life’s an open book.”

Through his lawyer, Jeff Manishen, Ahlowalia declined an interview for this story, citing concerns regarding ongoing litigation.

Two former members are suing for about $5 million for wages they say they are owed and mental abuse they say they have faced. Their claims have not been proved in court.

In legal documents defending himself against those lawsuits, Ahlowalia says he is not a cult leader. He denies “any and all allegations that (he) developed a cult-like following or that he or any members of his family or anyone residing at the property were members of a cult.”

Ahlowalia offered a statement:

“For almost three years, I lived under the cloud of a host of serious allegations made against me by several people,” he said. “All aspects of my life, both personally and professionally, were significantly harmed.

“I had every confidence that once these claims were challenged in court and then scrutinized by an independent, objective judicial authority, I would be exonerated.

“And, following a lengthy trial in the Ontario Court of Justice, that is precisely what took place.”

He quotes from the trial judge’s reasons for her verdict, including her suggestions that witnesses lied and colluded to frame Ahlowalia.

The sprawling 14,000-square-foot house at Mount Nemo has four floors and is set on 13 hectares (33 acres). It is a fortress — gated, fenced, with a security system — nestled between more modest homes and woodlands.

None of the bedroom doors have locks.

According to trial documents, there is a swimming pool, a prayer room, a fitness training room and a music room.

On the property are two warehouses, a barn, a greenhouse, sheds and hayfields. Horses, chickens, goats and cows are raised and there are several ATVs.

The Family is entrepreneurial and involved in a variety of businesses.

At trial, Halton assistant Crown attorney Monica Mackenzie argued Ahlowalia owned every business. The defence disagreed, saying other members were owners as well.

The ventures included a packaging company called Rootree that operated on the Mount Nemo property; a health product enterprise called Rejuvenating Springs; and a now-defunct restaurant named Wundeba on Guelph Line Road in Burlington, which opened in the spring of 2016 and promised “exceptional meals for body, mind and spirit.” Ahlowalia was head chef.

Most Family members worked at these businesses. Court heard evidence they either weren’t paid or were paid less than minimum wage. The balance of their “earnings” were placed in a fund to run the Mount Nemo home and cover expenses for The Family, such as food, and medical and dental benefits.

A few members worked outside The Family businesses, but were still expected to pay into the communal fund.

Family members were able to have their own bank accounts and members went on trips together to Muskoka and Costa Rica, paid for by The Family fund.

Ahlowalia ended his statement by saying: “With all that I have been through,” he said, “I have no desire to respond to what others have said about me. Rather, my energies and focus are directed on the future: to support my family, contribute to the community and work to rebuild my life.”

The followers

Ahlowalia’s followers tended to be young, aimless and vulnerable.

Mr. X was Ahlowalia’s martial arts student in Milton. He moved in with The Family in 1997.

In the fall of 2004, he began dating a 23-year-old Sheridan College classical animation student, Ms. X. On their second date, he brought her to The Family home to watch “Bend It Like Beckham” with Ahlowalia and his followers.

Two weeks later she dropped out of school and moved in.

Some of the criminal charges Ahlowalia was later acquitted of relate to Ms. X — including the sexual assault charge for which he was found not guilty. Therefore, her identity is protected by a court ordered publication ban. Metroland is not reporting the names of her husband and children in order to uphold the ban, and instead has chosen to identify them only as Mr. and Ms. X.

Ms. X would later say she left school because Ahlowalia, about 20 years older than she was, convinced her she was depressed and not smart enough to succeed.

Ms. X was enamoured with The Family.

She was “instantly impressed” by Ahlowalia’s wisdom, she said in an interview, and in awe of his band of young people sharing a roof.

“A majority of the people who came to live with him over the years were all people who were missing either a father figure or parental guidance in their lives. In my case, my parents were at a distance,” she told Metroland newspapers.

Her own parents had recently retired and moved to India. In their absence, Ahlowalia acted as “a mentor, teacher and father figure,” to her. She became financially and emotionally dependent on him.

“By the time you realize that things are not what you thought they were, it’s too late,” she said.

Eventually she felt trapped and helpless, living in constant fear with seemingly no way out.

“Behind closed doors, it’s nothing short of a dictatorship,” she said, likening The Family to a cult. Ahlowalia’s “like a spider in the middle of a web and keeps everyone at the extremities. But he controls everyone. He’s the controller of that web.”

Getting caught in that web cost her 17 years of her life, she said.

She briefly pursued her chartered general accountant certification, but abandoned that, she claimed, because Ahlowalia instructed her not to take her final exams.

Justice Freeman, in her written trial judgment, surmised the young woman was attracted to Ahlowalia because she “was lonely.”

“She was attracted to The Family as it was presented to her as a large, loving group of people living together,” the judge wrote.

In December 2005, Mr. X and Ms. X married. Within two years they had two children, the four of them sharing two bedrooms and a bathroom in the basement at Mount Nemo.

Ms. X took on various roles in The Family, working for Rootree and in the kitchen at the Wundeba restaurant.

Mr. X was a private investigator, who ran his own business.

Soon into the marriage, Ms. X began to voice suspicions that her husband was having affairs. The couple is now divorced.

Ms. X has filed a $2-million lawsuit against Ahlowalia for human trafficking, assault, battery, sexual assault, mental distress and breach of the Ontario Human Rights Code. None of her civil claims have been tested in court.

Christian Dombkowski frequented Ahlowalia’s pizza shop (called Mr. Trevis and then becoming a Pizza Pizza, at Derry Road and Highway 25) when he was 15 and a student at Milton District High School.

“A big slice of pizza for a dollar. For me that was great because we didn’t have a lot of money. My mom just got divorced.”

One day, Ahlowalia and his business partner asked him to deliver a pizza. He could use their car.

“From that day on, I became the unofficial delivery driver,” he said.

Eventually, Ahlowalia left the pizza business and opened a submarine sandwich shop down the street. Dombkowski quit school to work there.

He became Ahlowalia’s martial arts student and began living with him at 18 or 19.

They watched Bruce Lee movies together.

“Through the martial arts there was a lot of philosophy and spirituality that he brought into it,” Dombkowski has said. “He demanded respect, like they do in the movies … We should pour his tea first, make sure he gets to eat first.”

Dombkowski married Sheela in March 1996. The couple and their three children lived with Ahlowalia for decades.

Between 2010 and 2015, Dombkowski worked as a real-estate agent, but otherwise he worked for businesses operated by The Family.

He was convicted of tax evasion for failing to report $860,000 income in 2011.

In November 2016, DNA tests ordered by Dombkowski showed two of the children he was raising as his own were not his. Dombkowski produced the results at trial and testified the children were fathered by Ahlowalia.

Dombkowski was devastated by this revelation and depression and anxiety attacks set in.

“With one piece of paper I realized my best friend screwed me, my wife lied to me and my children were not mine,” he said in an interview with Metroland. “I was naive I guess … I trusted him.”

Dombkowski and Sheela moved out of the mansion for a while, but returned before permanently moving out in May 2020. They have since separated and Dombkowski says he paid American cult expert Steven Hassan $1,200[See Cult Education Institute regarding Steven Hassan] to help them deprogram.

After parting ways with The Family, Dombkowski asked Ahlowalia for $2.5 million. His request was turned down. He then initiated a lawsuit — which is ongoing — claiming he was unpaid for his work for The Family.

Ahlowalia’s daughter, Sjonum Awalia, lived in the home with her husband, Philippe St-Cyr Diotte. He moved in with The Family in 2008 and married her in 2012. At one point, the couple co-owned a travel business. Later, St-Cyr Diotte became chief executive of Rootree as well as affiliated Family companies.

Awalia testified that sometimes her father yelled so loudly at Ms. X in Wundeba, the restaurant, she had to tell him to be quiet because customers could hear.

Kent Emerson met Ahlowalia in November 1995 when he was 22. Emerson was introduced to him by his friend, Mr. X, and was impressed with what Ahlowalia had to offer as a martial arts instructor.

“In retrospect, I think he’s very skilled in the particular martial arts he does,” Emerson said in an interview. “Within the realm of Wing Chun, he’s skilled.”

As a student of Ahlowalia, Emerson would get to know him and other Family members better, and often came for dinner. As the relationship grew, he took up Ahlowalia’s offer in 1996 or 1997 to move into the home he had at the time in Oakville.

Eventually, Emerson and The Family set up a new household in the Mount Nemo mansion.

It didn’t dawn on Emerson that he might be a part of a cult until more than a decade into his stay with The Family.

There were red flags over the years, he said, but he didn’t learn about “all the really bad stuff” until much later on.

He still “wanted to learn the martial arts from him, but I really didn’t want to have anything to do with him.”

“You want to stay on his good side.”

By 2010, Emerson believed The Family was a cult.

“I could see he was a manipulator,” Emerson said. “I could see he was a gaslighter.”

Emerson sees Ahlowalia as a textbook narcissist — charming, well-spoken, a person who can make bold claims and convince people.

“He does tend to prey on people who are younger,” Emerson said.

“The way he creates a bond with people is that … the simplest way to put it is he will give you your pain and then he will be the one to take it away … making everything all right again.”

While Emerson lived on the Mount Nemo property, he lived apart from the main house.

“I was kind of one foot in, one foot out,” he said. “So I kind of walked away fairly unscathed by it. But I see the damage that it’s done to the other people.”

In October 2016, Emerson left the group. He had been considering it for a while, the breaking point being the revelation that Ahlowalia had fathered two daughters with married household member Sheela Dombkowski.

“That’s when everything really started to crumble,” he said.

Emerson was one of the witnesses called by the Crown to testify against Ahlowalia.

Justice Freeman mostly rejected his evidence — including his testimony of receiving information about Ahlowalia slapping Ms. X at The Family’s business warehouse in 2014 and then confronting him — “given the fact that Mr. Emerson was clearly aligned with (Ms. X), and expressed animus toward Mr. Ahlowalia.”

The judge also raised “concerns about potential collusion” between Emerson, Dombkowski and Mr. X, based on late similar disclosure from all three about Ahlowalia’s habits regarding guns.

Following Ahlowalia’s acquittal, Emerson told Metroland that he believed: “Everybody got up there and told the truth.” He also said he believes “every little inconsistency” can create a reasonable doubt.

“It is what it is,” he said. “The alternative could have been that nobody went to the police; the story never got out.”

The arrest

On Dec. 19, 2019, after meeting with Halton Regional Police, Mr. and Ms. X and their children moved out of the Mount Nemo mansion during the night, with no notice.

The next day, neighbours were shocked when dozens of police officers raided The Family home and Wundeba.

Heavily armed tactical officers arrived with search warrants. Also on scene were members of the child abuse and sexual assault units, and several police dogs.

Ahlowalia was handcuffed.

In his bedroom armoire, police found a Walther P99 gun and a Smith and Wesson AirLite firearm and ammunition. Brass knuckles were discovered in his bedside table. A loaded Beretta was seized from a briefcase in the back seat of his pickup truck.

Ahlowalia faced 30 charges, including seven counts of assault, assault with a weapon, uttering threats, possession of a prohibited weapon, two counts each of unsafe storage of a firearm and unauthorized possession of a firearm, two counts of possession of a prohibited firearm with ammunition, sexual assault and human trafficking. The allegations underlying the charges stemmed back to 2006.

Ahlowalia spent several weeks in jail before being granted bail. His bail conditions ordered him to stay away from the mansion, so he lived at another Family-owned home in Burlington instead.

The trial

Before the trial even began, 14 of the 30 charges initially laid against Ahlowalia were stayed. Once all the evidence was in, the Crown withdrew the extortion charge.

He still faced seven counts of assault, five weapons charges and one count each of assault with a weapon, sexual assault, threaten death and human trafficking.

On June 2, 2021, the trial opened at the Ontario Court of Justice in Burlington. It was held virtually, because of the pandemic, with Ahlowalia, the witnesses and lawyers joining by Zoom.

Ahlowalia, represented by top Hamilton criminal lawyer Jeff Manishen, exercised his right not to testify.

Immediately at trial, it became clear The Family was irreparably divided. There were those members who still lived in the mansion and supported their leader. And there were those who had left and were eager to testify against him.

Ms. X was at the centre of many allegations.

She claimed she was brainwashed, exploited, and physically and sexually abused while living in a commune, led by Ahlowalia. She spent four days on the witness stand and was recalled for another two days later in the trial.

“People were aware abuse was happening, but no one spoke up,” she testified. “I think everyone was just glad it wasn’t happening to them.”

Among the most troubling allegations were those related to the guns.

Ms. X said one reason she didn’t leave The Family sooner was because Ahlowalia told her he had guns. She never saw them herself, she testified, and she didn’t know where they were kept. She was terrified all the same.

Dombkowski testified that, in January 2012, he and Ahlowalia were going to a Highway 6 property The Family owned in Flamborough to meet with some men who had been illegally dumping fill there. Before they got out of the car, Ahlowalia “showed me that he had a Walther P99 gun tucked into his waistband and he had a pair of brass knuckles with him as well.”

“Just in case there’s gonna be trouble.”

Dombkowski said he believed the gun was loaded. It was never brandished during the meeting.

Christian Dombkowski also had guns. He got his firearms licence between 2000 and 2002, and by the time Ahlowalia was arrested, he had 10 to 12 guns. Police found two bulletproof vests in his closet.

Mr. X, Emerson and one of Ahlowalia’s daughters had their gun licences, too, and would go to the firing range together.

In 2018, after the DNA results, Dombkowski and Ahlowalia got into a physical fight in the basement of the mansion, Dombkowski testified.

Ahlowalia is said to have complained that Dombkowski was wasting his life watching movies, and had lost his faith.

Dombkowski claimed Ahlowalia said he had thought about coming into Dombkowski’s room in the middle of the night — then made a gesture as though firing a gun. It is an allegation Dombkowski didn’t mention until his trial preparation.

Just how illegal guns came to be found in Ahlowalia’s bedroom and car became a shocking sideshow within the trial.

In a statement to police, Dombkowski said Ahlowalia wanted a gun after a break-in at the mansion.

He said he was in the room when one of Ahlowalia’s martial-arts students agreed to buy an illegal Walther for the teacher in the United States and smuggle it over the border. Then the student went back and smuggled two more guns to Ahlowalia.

What Dombkowski didn’t admit — until he was on the witness stand and had full legal immunity from prosecution — was that he was that student.

Dombkowski said that under advice from his lawyer he did not disclose that he purchased the restricted guns.

The judge rejected all the evidence about the guns, except for the fact they were illegal and found in Ahlowalia’s bedroom and car.

Dombkowski’s deception destroyed his credibility.

“My reasons include the fact that as the person who smuggled the firearms into Canada, Mr. Dombkowski had a powerful motive to fabricate evidence that the firearms were in the exclusive possession of Mr. Ahlowalia,” she wrote. Dombkowski’s “willingness to mislead the court, at least initially, severely impacted his credibility.”

As well, she wrote, the DNA discovery “may offer one explanation as to why Mr. Dombkowski provided fabricated evidence at trial.”

The judge said she found him unreliable as a witness.

After he moved out of Mount Nemo, Dombkowski maintained contact with Mr. and Ms. X, and Emerson, leaving the judge to conclude “there is at least a possibility of collusion between these witnesses.”

Manishen pointed out that, mid-trial, Mr. X suddenly produced photos of the weapons in Ahlowalia’s bedroom to back up Dombkowski’s recent testimony about the guns.

Other Family members testified they did not see firearms or ammunition in Ahlowalia’s bedroom, even though they had been in there.

The allegations of human trafficking hinged largely on Ms. X claiming she was afraid to leave The Family and was forced to earn money for Ahlowalia’s benefit.

The trial heard Ms. X travelled several times to India to see her parents, and vacationed in Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic. The point being that she was free to come and go as she pleased.

Banking records examined at trial showed she worked for years with no salary before she began receiving $240 every two weeks in 2017 while working full-time at the restaurant. Her pay increased to $1,133 every two weeks in November 2018, but she said $623 of each paycheque was clawed back to cover bills for The Family.

By the time she left The Family, Ms. X was earning $38,000 a year.

The defence argued she received food and a roof over her head, and all members of The Family worked to make their businesses a success.

Court heard Ms. X played the stock market and had sole control over her own banking accounts, credit cards, a line of credit, an RESP account and a tax-free saving account. At one point, her investment portfolio was worth $300,000.

An avid online shopper, she said buying things was “a means of escaping my reality.”

The judge decided Ms. X didn’t work out of fear. She worked “due to a desire to contribute to the well being of The Family.”

Mid-trial, when the issue of Ms. X allegedly labouring for free was at issue, a new audio recording suddenly emerged.

It was a 30-minute recording made by Mr. X of Ahlowalia, in the presence of Ms. X.

The leader is heard saying his business would go bankrupt if he started paying everyone.

“I’m the kind of person that will take advantage of each and every individual that claims themselves to be a part of this family,” he says.

The defence sought a mistrial due to the delayed disclosure of the evidence.

The judge ruled against that, deciding instead that Ms. X should be recalled to the witness stand.

That secret audio tape, among other bits of evidence gathered by Mr. X, led defence lawyer Manishen to suggest the professional private investigator was “conducting an investigation” into Ahlowalia.

That theory was bolstered by a secret security camera discovered in the mansion.

After Mr. and Ms. X moved out, another Family member found it hidden in the home. It captured an image of Mr. X near the lens — as though putting it into place — at 4 a.m. on the day he moved out.

The sexual assault was to have happened in 2006, according to Ms. X.

She testified Ahlowalia approached her from behind in the warehouse, groping her breast and vagina and whispering that her husband did not appreciate or love her and could not satisfy her.

“You’re totally wrong, it didn’t happen at all because the warehouse didn’t even exist in 2006,” Manishen said.

“I will never forget being sexually molested,” she responded. “If I am off by the date, I apologize.”

Ms. X maintained Ahlowalia sexually assaulted her on multiple occasions, sometimes demeaning her breast size in front of others. Once he allegedly groped her and told her to wear “accessible” clothing.

She said on six or seven occasions at the restaurant and in the mansion’s prayer room he told her she was only good for sex. She said he stuck his hands down her shirt and grabbed her nipples.

Ms. X said St-Cyr Diotte witnessed this once. He denied seeing anything.

Dombkowski said he saw something happen once, but his account didn’t match any of the incidents testified to by Ms. X.

The judge once again found Dombkowski to have “a willingness to embellish, if not outright fabricate evidence.” For example, he suggested he had seen Ahlowalia touch Ms. X’s breasts “sometimes,” but then gave evidence to witnessing such behaviour just once.

His “animus” and “sparsity of details” caused the judge “to reject his evidence that he observed any alleged sexual assault.”

Ms. X claimed she was slapped, punched and struck in the head daily by Ahlowalia for the first six years she lived with The Family. She said she was forced to walk around in her underwear in the prayer room.

“I remember going to bed every night not wanting to wake up the next morning,” she testified. “There was a sense of despair that had set in. In my mind I would ask God not to let me wake up tomorrow because I knew I would be waking up to more beatings or some form of abuse.”

She said all these things happened in front of other Family members. No testimony by other Family members backed that up.

Ms. X said Ahlowalia made her stand outside barefoot in winter as punishment for using the wrong type of tofu for dinner. Her daughter and husband gave similar evidence, as did Emerson and Dombkowski.

Defence witnesses did not agree with Ms. X’s version of events, but did say they “challenged” themselves by standing outside in the cold. Such physical challenges were part of the training from their leader, they said.

Ms. X said Ahlowalia was verbally abusive, swearing at her and hurling insults.

This is one of the rare areas where Crown and defence witnesses agreed.

Family members and Wundeba employees agreed Ahlowalia swore and shouted, not just at Ms. X, but at anyone who sparked his ire.

Ms. X testified Ahlowalia threw a bowl at her in the restaurant kitchen. The moment was caught on a security video.

“The bowl is definitely not thrown at her,” the judge wrote. It was tossed on the ground at her feet.

There were many other accusations of abuse.

One, referred to during the trial as “The Eye Injury,” was alleged to have occurred on Oct. 27, 2012.

Ms. X said that after she messed up an eggplant dish she was preparing for Ahlowalia’s mother, he smashed her head against a closet door, cutting open her eyebrow which bled profusely.

Ms. X testified her husband was in the room when this happened and he and Ahlowalia took her to Milton District Hospital.

Hospital records indicate she told staff she bumped into a door.

Ms. X testified her eyebrow was “cut to the bone.” Medical records showed a three-centimetre laceration with no injury to the bone.

Sobbing on the witness stand, Ms. X said it “felt” like it was cut to the bone because “it hurt and I felt blood dripping down my face.”

Manishen suggested her injury wasn’t from being assaulted at all, but rather she lost her balance during a martial arts exercise.

“Slamming my head into a door was not a martial arts exercise. I’m sorry, no,” she said.

The trial also examined “Light Switch Incident,” “The Burger Mix Incident,” “The Coleslaw Incident,” “The Knife Incident,” “The Juicer Incident,” “The Burger Plating Incident,” “The Salmon Bagel Incident,” “The Rotten Salmon Incident,” “The Cut Lip Incident,” “The Charley Horse Incident” and “The Slap at the Warehouse Incident.”

All involved Ahlowalia allegedly assaulting or threatening Ms. X. Some related to charges that had been laid, others had not led to charges.

In every matter, the judge found the evidence was insufficient.

Even an audio recording of Ahlowalia talking about “decking” Ms. X did not sway Freeman. The judge still did not find the evidence compelling.

Ms. X testified she made a “secret plan” to leave Mount Nemo with her children and made notes on a yellow pad of paper about what to bring. She did not tell her husband she was preparing to leave because he was loyal to the leader.

Ahlowalia’s daughter found the notes and a meeting of The Family was called, Ms. X said. She claimed he had her sign a document that said if she ever left, she would not take her children with her.

The judge said there was no evidence such a document existed and other family members denied any meeting took place.

Nov. 15, 2022, the day of the verdict, was the only time the trial sat in person at the courthouse.

Ahlowalia was there, with loyal members of The Family and his lawyer, Manishen.

On the other side of the courtroom was assistant Crown attorney Monica Mackenzie.

Justice Freeman entered the courtroom and her judgment was swift and spare.

More than a year after the trial opened, Ahlowalia was acquitted on all remaining charges.

He was free to go.

The Family members hugged their leader. Many wept.

Manishen told the media outside the courthouse that his client “has always asserted his innocence. The entire series of events were extremely … stressful and challenging for him and his entire family. Enormously disruptive. I know that they will all look forward to moving on with their lives in a positive way to try and get through a very, very difficult time.”

The judge’s written decision, 195 pages long, evaluates the evidence, assesses the truthfulness of the testimony, applies the law and reasons out the verdict.

Freeman methodically and bluntly dismantled each and every allegation, shredding the Crown’s case, the credibility of most witnesses and the police investigation.

The judge minced no words when evaluating Ms. X along with her husband.

They were not credible.

“The court had to repeatedly admonish (Ms. X) to simply answer questions as opposed to providing unresponsive replies or going off on a tangent, often apparently designed to forward an agenda against Mr. Ahlowalia or portray him in a poor light or counter the anticipated defence witnesses and paint them as untruthful.”

Ms. X’s evidence “did not survive scrutiny” and “it would be dangerous to ground a conviction on any count where such a conviction rests solely on the evidence of Ms. (X).”

Ms. X was caught in various lies, inconsistencies and exaggerations during her testimony, the judge concluded. She testified to incidents she never disclosed during her three interviews with police and incidents that couldn’t be corroborated — not even by other Family members she claimed were witnesses.

The judge said Ms. X’s testimony “revealed her ongoing animus towards Mr. Ahlowalia” against whom she has an ongoing civil suit. She hired the same lawyer who filed a similar suit on behalf of Dombkowski.

The judge said Ms. X gave evidence that “made no sense,” was “self-serving” and “untruthful.”

On acquitting the accused of one of his charges, for instance, Freeman wrote: “The evidence of human trafficking in these circumstances simply does not exist, let alone reach the high burden of proof required to sustain a conviction.”

Mr. X was also “not a credible witness.”

Freeman quoted Manishen, who noted Mr. X was “the architect” of the case against Ahlowalia, documenting, photographing and compiling evidence that supported his allegations. He waited until after the trial had begun to produce some of that evidence for the Crown.

The judge raised the possibility of Mr. X planting the guns Ahlowalia was charged with having. He claimed he discovered the guns lying around the house before the police raid and was upset that children in The Family could get ahold of them, yet all he did was photograph the guns, rather than remove or report them.

He also failed to remember a number of instances seeing Ahlowalia with guns until a trial preparation meeting.

Freeman wrote she was “troubled” by the evidence of Mr. X, Emerson and Dombkowski regarding the guns, the fact the men communicated with each other after the raids and they had each proven themselves “to not be a credible witness” at trial.

“All of which led me to believe there is at least a possibility that there was collusion.”

Ms. X told Metroland that given Ahlowalia’s full acquittal, she questions her decision to come forward.

“What was the point in going to the police or doing all of this if in the end there is no justice?” she said. “What really left me speechless was the fact that within court there were audio recordings played of (Ahlowalia) himself admitting to decking me, in other words, punching me … I just don’t understand how that’s not sufficient evidence.”

A great deal seemed to turn on the word “decked.”

The judge wrote: “Although the excerpt is indeed troubling, I disagree that it is corroborative for several reasons: Before hearing this recording, (Ms. X) never referenced being decked by Mr. Ahlowalia at any time over five days of providing evidence, nor did she reference Mr. Ahlowalia using the term, let alone her claim that he used it frequently, as she testified after the audio was played.”

Ms. X said she doesn’t harbour any hatred toward The Family — and that she’s trying to pick up fragments of her life and move on for the sake of her children.

“I’m just grateful that I now have the chance to at least spend the remainder of my adult life with having some freedom and being able to live without fear.”

The judge

Justice Freeman didn’t stop at slamming the Crown’s key witnesses and tossing out the case.

She also tore a strip off the Crown. The case wasted precious court time.

“The prosecution of the charge of human trafficking required the hearing of an enormous amount of evidence,” the judge wrote. “Days of evidence were devoted to hearing who did what, where and when at the Wundeba restaurant and other family businesses.”

“It is not for this Court to determine whether the decision of the Crown to prosecute a certain offence is justified but I do urge the Crown’s office to examine this case to determine whether the time required to prosecute and defend the charge of human trafficking, in these circumstances and on this evidence, was in the public interest.”

The time set aside for the trial was woefully “insufficient” for a case that comprised 30 counts of wide-ranging and serious offences, involving two complainants, 14 witnesses and spanning 25 years.

“A trial originally scheduled to take 26 days, including pre-trial applications, consumed 57 days of court time,” wrote Freeman, one of just six full-time judges in Halton.

The slow pace and extended length of the Ahlowalia prosecution tied up Freeman and her staff for 30 extra days, delaying other cases and consuming “approximately 40 per cent of the sitting days of one judge.”

“It remains to be seen what impact this will have, if any, on future delay applications brought in Halton,” wrote Freeman, suggesting that pending cases could be tossed out because they have taken too long to reach trial because the Ahlowalia matter further bogged down a court system already dealing with unprecedented backlogs.

No appeal has been filed in the Ahlowalia case.

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