Canada’s Trudeau vows action after four Indians freeze to death at US border

The four victims - an infant, a teenaged boy and two adults - allegedly froze to death while trying to cross the border into US
Snow and vehicles are seen as RCMP officers search the area where a family of four froze to death after crossing the border from the US near Emerson, Manitoba, Canada. (REUTERS)
Snow and vehicles are seen as RCMP officers search the area where a family of four froze to death after crossing the border from the US near Emerson, Manitoba, Canada. (REUTERS)
Updated on Jan 23, 2022 01:25 AM IST
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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday vowed action on human trafficking after the “mind-blowing” death of four Indian nationals, who froze to death while allegedly trying to illegally cross the border between Canada and the United States.

“It was an absolutely mind-blowing story. It’s so tragic to see a family die like that, victims of human traffickers...and of people who took advantage of their desire to build a better life,” Trudeau said.

“This is why we are doing all we can to discourage people from crossing the border in an irregular or illicit manner. We know there are great risks in doing so,” he added.

Canada, Trudeau said, was working very closely with the United States to stop smuggling and help people “taking unacceptable risks”.

The four victims - an infant, a teenage boy and two adults - were found in the Canadian province of Manitoba, just about 10km from the American border in Minnesota, where they were said to be walking across snow-covered fields during blizzard-like conditions.

India’s consulate in Toronto has sent a team of officials to Winnipeg in Manitoba to coordinate with local officials and law enforcement. Canadian police have also briefed Indian officials in Ottawa.

However, the identities of the four victims have yet to be established as the Manitoba Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) continues its investigation, with a post-mortem likely to take place on Monday.

Seven other Indian nationals, linked to the tragic quartet found dead on the Canadian side of the border, were apprehended in the United States, and, according to an affidavit filed by a Homeland Security agent before the US district court for Minnesota, “all of the foreign nationals spoke Gujarati”. That makes it likely the victims were also from Gujarat, though that has yet to be confirmed by the police.

One of those caught in the US told agents there he “paid a significant amount of money to enter Canada from India under a fraudulently obtained student visa”.

One person, a 47-year-old resident of Florida Steve Shand was arrested by US authorities for allegedly “smuggling undocumented foreign nationals”. Two Indian nationals were found travelling with him in a passenger van, while five others were found wandering nearby, apparently seeking to rendezvous with Shand. One of them, a female, is in hospital suffering from severe frostbite that could lead to partial amputation.

The bodies of the four victims were discovered on Wednesday after Manitoba RCMP in the morning received “concerning information” from their counterparts that the US Customs and Border Protection (USCBP) had apprehended a group of individuals who had crossed into the US from Canada, near the town of Emerson in Manitoba.

According to a release from the Manitoba RCMP, they also found that one of the adults was carrying items meant for an infant, but that no infant was with the group.

A search began and four hours later, at about 1:30pm, RCMP officers found the bodies of three individuals located on the Canadian side of the border, close to the town of Emerson.

“Fearing there may be additional victims, officers continued their search and located the body of an additional male, believed at this time to be in his mid-teens,” the release stated.

In a statement released on Friday, Jane MacLatchy, commanding officer of Manitoba RCMP, said the force has continued its search for survivors or additional victims, but no more have been located thus far.


    Anirudh Bhattacharya is a Toronto-based commentator on North American issues, and an author. He has also worked as a journalist in New Delhi and New York spanning print, television and digital media. He tweets as @anirudhb.

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