Eight dead crossing river in attempt to enter US from Canada -police

Police search the marshland where bodies were found in Akwesasne, Quebec, Canada March 31, 2023. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi

AKWESASNE, Quebec (Reuters) -Police in Canada recovered two more bodies, including that of a missing infant, near the U.S.-Canada border on Friday, bringing the total to eight victims from two families who died this week trying to enter the U.S. from Canada by boat across the St. Lawrence River.

“Two additional bodies have been recovered, one an infant, a Canadian citizen of Romanian descent, and one adult female believed to be an Indian national,” Shawn Dulude, chief of the Akwesasne Mohawk Police Service, told reporters.

Police recovered six bodies on Thursday and believe the tragedy may have occurred on Wednesday night.

Dulude said they do not believe there are more bodies to recover, but they are searching for a missing 30-year-old man, Casey Oakes, as a person of interest in the case. His boat was found near the area where the victims were recovered.

Earlier on Friday, Deputy Chief Lee-Ann O’Brien said the victims appeared to be from two families, one Indian and one Romanian, who were trying to the reach the U.S. illegally.

At least two children with Canadian passports were among the victims, said police, who are waiting on the results of a post-mortem and toxicology tests from Montreal to determine the cause of death.

U.S. President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau agreed last week to stop asylum seekers coming to Canada through unofficial border crossings, a move critics said could mean refugees and migrants will take more risks when crossing.

But Akwesasne police said the agreement that closed all unofficial border entries, including Roxham Road in Quebec, should not have factored here because the families were seeking to go to the U.S., not to Canada.

“Right now what I can tell you is this has nothing to do with that closure,” O’Brien said.

Last year an Indian family of four froze to death in Canada’s province of Manitoba as they were trying to cross into the U.S.

The Akwesasne reserve straddles both sides of the St. Lawrence River, with land in Ontario and Quebec on the Canadian side, and New York. To fight smuggling of people and goods, local police monitor the river full-time with funds from Quebec.

“We’re reeling from this tragedy,” Akwesasne Chief Abram Benedict told reporters. “It does bring to light the challenges of immigration for Canada and the United States.”

More people have been using Akwesasne territory to try to enter the U.S. in secret, with 80 interceptions recorded since the beginning of the year, and the majority have been Indians or Romanians, said Dulude.

On Wednesday night, when the families likely sought to cross the river, the weather was poor.

“It was very windy,” O’Brien said, and it was raining and sleeting. “It was not a good time to be out in the water.”

Trudeau called the deaths “heartbreaking.”

“We need to understand properly what happened, how this happened and do whatever we can to ensure that we’re minimizing the chances of it happening again,” he told reporters in Moncton, New Brunswick.

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