Migrant found dead near Quebec's Roxham Road border crossing

Quebec provincial police search the area near where the body of a man was found, just east of Roxham Road, a well-travelled unofficial border crossing for asylum seekers hoping to cross into Canada, on Jan. 5, 2022. (Jacaudrey Charbonneau/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Quebec provincial police search the area near where the body of a man was found, just east of Roxham Road, a well-travelled unofficial border crossing for asylum seekers hoping to cross into Canada, on Jan. 5, 2022. (Jacaudrey Charbonneau/Radio-Canada - image credit)

A man was found dead on Wednesday near Roxham Road, a common passage between the United States and Canada used by migrants to claim asylum.

The man was a migrant who was trying to cross the unofficial border, according to police sources who spoke to Radio-Canada on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

The Sûreté du Québec (SQ), Quebec's provincial police force, confirmed the death on Thursday morning. The circumstances of the death remain unclear.

"We will investigate the cause of death, it will take some time," said Louis-Philippe Ruel, a spokesperson for the SQ. "We are trying to determine how he got there, where he was coming from, where he was going and who he was."

Charles Contant/CBC
Charles Contant/CBC

The SQ confirmed the body of the man was discovered on Wednesday afternoon between Roxham Road and the Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle border crossing, about five kilometres away. A United States Custom and Border Protection spokesperson said its agents first spotted the body while patrolling by helicopter. They determined it was on the Canadian side of the border, and alerted Canadian officials.

SQ officers were using off-road vehicles, metal detectors and sniffer dogs to search an area east of Roxham Road on Thursday afternoon.

His nationality is unknown.

Roxham Road is an unofficial border crossing that straddles the Canadian-American border between Quebec and the state of New York.

According to the federal government, 45,250 asylum seekers arrived in Quebec between January and November 2022, most of them via unofficial entry points like Roxham Road. In 2021, 7,290 would-be refugees entered the country through the province.

While a CBC journalist was at Roxham Road on Thursday, a group of people arrived in a van on the New York side and entered Canada despite border guards warning them that crossing was illegal and if they entered they would be arrested.

Quebec Premier François Legault has said the province is unable to keep up with the volume of refugee claimants crossing at Roxham Road. In May 2022, Quebec asked the federal government to close the unofficial border crossing.

Migrants have died before while trying to cross the border. In 2019, a man from the Dominican Republic was found dead in Canada near Roxham Road, the Washington Post reported. In January 2022, the bodies of four Indian migrants were found in Manitoba near the U.S. border.

Charles Contant/CBC
Charles Contant/CBC

In 2016, two asylum seekers lost fingers to frostbite when they crossed from the United States into Manitoba on a bitterly cold Christmas Eve.

Chantal Ianniciello, an immigration lawyer, said when she heard about the migrant's death near Roxham Road, her first thought was "not again."

"We've heard those stories over and over again in the past years, especially in winter," she said. "Not everybody dies of course, but we have heard of stories of (amputations due to frostbite), people being found frozen, lying down on the snow.

"I find it very sad. I find it shocking and it's a story that's repeating itself again."

Frantz André, who has for years helped asylum seekers make and defend their claims to stay in Canada, says he fears these types of situations will become more frequent should the unofficial border crossing close.

Refugee claimants who enter Canada from the United States at an official border checkpoint are automatically turned back under the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement. However, people who enter Canada at non-official points of entry — such as Roxham Road — and file refugee claims are generally allowed to remain in the country pending their hearing dates.

"There's a little bit of concern about that, where not being able to come through [Roxham Road] may send people to enter in different places and that's very concerning," he said. "The risk is higher considering the [weather] right now."

But one way or another, he said, would-be refugees will keep making the perilous journey into Canada.

"When people leave Brazil or Chile and go through 14 countries … through the tropical forest between Colombia and Panama, trying to cross the border in the snow is nothing for them," André said.

"This is one last step in looking for a home, a new place, so they're ready to take the risk."

The office of Sean Fraser, Canada's minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship, issued a statement saying he was saddened to hear the news of the man's death.

"Our hearts go out to their family," the statement said. "We cannot speculate on why people decide to cross the border between ports of entry."