The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Bodies of 8 believed to be migrants recovered in Canada near U.S. border

Local search-and-rescue personnel in an airboat in the marshland in Akwesasne, Quebec, Canada, on Friday. (Christinne Muschi/Reuters)
3 min

Canadian authorities have recovered the bodies of eight people, including two children, in a marshy area near the U.S. border, police said.

Authorities think the individuals belonged to two families of Romanian and Indian descent and were trying to cross into the United States illegally. The bodies were found Wednesday and Thursday near the St. Lawrence River in the Mohawk Territory of Akwesasne in southern Canada.

The territory straddles the U.S.-Canada border, including parts of New York state and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec.

“All are believed to have been attempting illegal entry into the U.S. from Canada,” the Akwesasne Mohawk Police said in a statement late Friday.

“The circumstances surrounding the deaths continue to be investigated,” the statement said, adding that police were working with Immigration Canada and Homeland Security to confirm the individuals’ identities.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the situation “heartbreaking,” vowing to do “whatever we can to minimize the chances of this ever happening again.”

He has faced growing pressure from Quebec’s leadership and the opposition Conservative Party to clamp down on illegal migration. Nearly 40,000 asylum seekers crossed into Canada from the United States in 2022, the most since Canada began keeping tracking in 2017.

Last month, the United States and Canada announced an expansion of the “Safe Third Country Agreement,” a treaty managing the flow of asylum seekers at the shared land border. The changes to the agreement allow each country to turn back asylum seekers trying to cross the border at unofficial entry points.

Migrant advocates, however, say the new deal will simply push people to pursue more dangerous crossings to avoid detection by authorities.

In a statement, Abram Benedict, the grand chief of the Mohawk Council for Akwesasne, said that securing the territory’s borders “and ensuring Akwesasne is not exploited has been a priority heightened in recent years.”

“We are committed to understanding how this tragedy occurred,” he said.

One of the bodies was that of an infant, a Canadian citizen of Romanian descent, police said. Another was an adult female whom authorities believe to be an Indian national.

Police also said they were continuing to “search the waterways” for another missing person, 30-year-old Casey Oakes. He was reported missing Thursday and was last seen on Wednesday “boarding a small, light blue colored vessel,” police said.

“A vessel matching the description as being operated by Casey Oakes was located near the location of the deceased persons,” police said but added, “At this time, we cannot confirm that the two incidents are related.” Akwesasne Police Chief Shawn Dulude told reporters that Oakes was a person of interest.

The community is “in mourning,” Dulude said at a news conference Friday, calling the case a “very sad situation.”