Canada police say they broke up group that smuggled people into US

By Saadeq Ahmed

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canadian authorities have broken up a large-scale human smuggling ring that they say moved hundreds of migrants illegally into the eastern United States over a year-long period, police said on Thursday.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said they had arrested four people and issued arrest warrants for four others.

The gang allegedly charged migrants thousands of dollars each before moving them through communities along the St. Lawrence River and then across into the United States between July 2022 and June 2023.

"Many people from all over the world come to North America desperately seeking a better life," said RCMP Inspector Etienne Thauvette, part of a special unit combating cross-border crime.

"Transnational criminal networks are exploiting that desperation to profit from these men, women and families, with no concern for their welfare," he said in a statement.

The RCMP said some migrants had lost their lives during night-time crossings, but gave no details.

Two of the people that police have charged come from the Akwesasne indigenous reserve that 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.

In March 2023, eight people from two families died in Akwesasne reserve waters in a failed bid to traverse the St. Lawrence. An local man suspected of being involved in the crossing attempt was found dead in the river in July.

In January 2022, an Indian family of four froze to death in the central Canadian province of Manitoba as they were trying to cross into the U.S.

(Reporting by Saadeq Ahmed, editing by David Ljunggren and Alistair Bell)