The six people found dead Thursday in the St. Lawrence River, on the Akwesasne reservation that straddles Quebec, Ontario and New York State, were trying to enter the United States illegally. Their “shattering” death did not fail to react everywhere on the political scene on Friday.
According to information provided by the police, the six victims come from two separate families, of Indian and Romanian origin. A total of five adults and a child under the age of three who had Canadian citizenship lost their lives.
At this stage of the investigation, another person is still missing, according to the information obtained. It would be a child of Romanian origin at a young age.
All of the bodies were found near an overturned boat belonging to a missing Aboriginal man from the Akwesasne Aboriginal community, local deputy police chief Lee-Ann O’Brien said at a news conference. The missing man’s name is Casey Oakes and authorities are asking locals for help in locating him.
Recall that the macabre discovery was first made around 5 p.m. on Thursday, after the boat in question was spotted by a military helicopter, triggering a search operation.
The fact that this tragedy comes a week after the closure of unofficial border checkpoints between Canada and the United States, including Roxham Road, has not escaped anyone’s notice. In a press briefing, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did not want to establish a direct link between the tightening of border measures and this tragedy.
“There is an ongoing investigation, and I don’t want to jump on the speculation [sic] and unconfirmed facts that are going around,” he said at a press briefing in Moncton, New Brunswick, on Friday. “We will have to fully understand what happened in order to be able to […] take the best measures to protect vulnerable people,” added the Prime Minister.
Note that the Mohawk police of Akwesasne will be assisted in particular by the Canadian Coast Guard, the Sûreté du Québec (SQ) and the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) in their investigation.
In Quebec, Minister François Bonnardel indicated in the morning that “[his] thoughts are with the community this morning”. “There is an ongoing investigation, we are still waiting for the details. The SQ is in support. We are monitoring the situation closely,” he explained without giving further details. His cabinet also did not wish to go further at this stage of the investigation.
Québec solidaire immigration critic Guillaume Cliche-Rivard, for his part, spoke of “terrible news”, saying “wholeheartedly with the families of the victims”.
“I will follow the evolution of this case carefully, but let’s remember that if people are not allowed to go through regular border crossings, they will continue to cross borders, by ever more dangerous paths. These human tragedies can be avoided, ”said Mr. Cliche-Rivard, who was a lawyer specializing in immigration before being elected.
All this comes just seven days after the agreement reached last Friday between Ottawa and Washington to close the Roxham Road crossing, used by thousands of migrants to enter Canada irregularly to seek asylum. . The breach was closed the same evening at midnight, a situation that François Legault then called a “very good victory” for Quebec.
At the Parti Québécois, MP Joël Arseneau spoke on Friday of “sad news”. “Our thoughts are with the families of the victims. We will follow this situation closely. Liberal MP Virginie Dufour lamented the “appalling situation”, but refuses to make a direct link to the Roxham closure. “We don’t know the circumstances, we don’t know where these people are from, but we don’t have the details. It’s really an immeasurable drama, there, that we would not want to have to comment on, “she said on the sidelines of a press briefing on housing at the National Assembly.
She claims that one of the “fears that was raised” with the Roxham Road closure was that she might “create other mini-roads”, but that “there is no connection to be made” with This drama. “We can’t make a connection to what’s at… the bodies recovered, unfortunately, we don’t have any details,” she said.
By the end of January, Mohawk police in Akwesasne had already received complaints about “suspicious individuals” in the village of Saint-Regis (Kana: takon). Officers then went to the scene before locating four people identified as “foreign nationals”, who were subsequently transferred to Immigration Canada teams.
At that time, local police had urged their community to “be aware of their surroundings, especially those residing near a river system.”
“Persons involved in human smuggling attempted to use the shores of the St. Lawrence in the Kana: takon and Tsi Snaihne areas. Human trafficking is a crime; not only does this pose serious health and safety concerns for the person(s) committing the act, but it endangers the entire community of Akwesasne,” the police force said.
What’s more, in early March, an American smuggler received a five-year prison sentence for human trafficking after helping Indian nationals cross from Canada to the United States via the Saint-Laurent, in the same sector. In April 2022, this smuggler’s boat sank while on the St. Lawrence River, a tributary of the river. The nationals had to be rescued by the Mohawk Police Service.