Six bodies that police recovered on Thursday in a marshy area of the St. Lawrence River in Quebec came from two families seeking clandestine entry into the U.S., police said on Friday, adding that an infant was still missing.
“The six individuals are believed to be from two families, one of Romanian descent and the other believed to be citizens of India,” Lee-Ann O’Brien, deputy chief of Akwesasne Mohawk Police Service, told a news conference.
“Police believe one infant from the Romanian family has not been located and we’ll continue searching. All are believed to have been attempting illegal entry into the U.S. from Canada,” O’Brien added.
The six dead are five adults and one child under three years of age. Both the deceased and the missing children “were associated with the Romanian family” and had Canadian passports, which were found, O’Brien said.
Police 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 been a factor here because the families were seeking to go to the U.S., not come to Canada.
“Right now what I can tell you is this has nothing to do with that closure,” O’Brien said because “these people were believed to be gaining entry into the U.S. It’s completely opposite.”
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 stretches along 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.
There has been an increase of people using Akwesasne territory to try to enter the U.S. in secret, with 48 “incidents” recorded since the beginning of the year, and the majority have been Indians or Romanians, O’Brien said.
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.”
The boat of a 30-year-old man missing since Wednesday, Casey Oakes, was found in the vicinity of the six bodies and police continue to search for him, though they did not confirm his involvement.
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.
Copyright 2023 Thomson/Reuters