Haitian migrant’s death reignites debate over Roxham Road border crossing

Asylum seekers, poorly dressed for the weather, board a shuttle bus after being processed by the RCMP at the usCanada border on Roxham Road, in Hemmingford, Que., on Jan. 14.Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail

The death of a Haitian migrant near Quebec’s Roxham Road has reignited a debate within the province about how you can reply to a rise in asylum seekers entering the country through the irregular border crossing.

The body of Fritznel Richard, 44, was found on Jan. 5 in a wooded area near the favored unofficial entry point, about an hour’s drive south of Montreal. Provincial police said he was trying to succeed in family in america, and that he likely died of hypothermia after becoming lost.

A migrant’s advocacy group that helps the family said Mr. Richard was originally from Haiti, had entered Canada through Roxham Road at an unknown time, and had been struggling to acquire a piece permit. “Unfortunately, he was in a precarious situation and was not in a position to make ends meet,” said Hady Anne, a spokesperson for Solidarity Across Borders.

Hélène Gravel, who lives next to the U.S. border on Roxham Road, said that prior to now few months, she and her neighbours have seen more people crossing through the forest near her house to get to the U.S., including families.

Hélène Gravel looks out the window at her home on Roxham Road.Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail

Hélène Gravel walks toward the open field on her property where she regularly sees people and families crossing near the U.S.-Canada border.Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail

“Even when there aren’t lots of them, we’re not going to attend for them to die within the forest to do something,” she said.

Mr. Richard’s death has placed a renewed highlight on Roxham Road’s unofficial border crossing, at which tens of 1000’s of migrants have entered Canada in recent times, largely due to the Secure Third Country Agreement between Canada and the U.S. The long-standing pact implies that border agents from each country must turn away asylum seekers from the opposite in the event that they present themselves at official land border crossings.

The unassuming cul-de-sac near the St-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que., customs has grow to be an “official nonofficial point of entry” in consequence, said Christina Clark-Kazak, associate professor on the University of Ottawa’s graduate school of public and international affairs.

Concrete blocks and rocks block roads on either side of the border within the sparsely populated area. A narrow gravel path and signs with information concerning the asylum-seeking process lead migrants from the U.S. into RCMP installations.

The RCMP intercepted 34,478 asylum seekers who didn’t use official ports of entry to enter Quebec between January and November of 2022, in response to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada data, in comparison with just 316 in the remaining of the country.

Federal opposition parties have repeatedly called for a review of the Secure Third Country Agreement, but anxiety concerning the situation has been sharpest in Quebec.

A view of Roxham Road heading toward the U.S.-Canada border.Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail

“The federal government must renegotiate the Secure Third Country Agreement with america as soon as possible,” said Ewan Sauves, spokesperson for Premier François Legault.

“There may be an urgent have to act on Roxham Road,” said Mr. Sauves, adding that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “must make sure that the opposite provinces take charge of the proportion of asylum seekers that’s theirs. It is just not fair that it is barely Quebec that has to administer this.”

Quebec is “concerned” concerning the increase in asylum applications since 2017 and its “ability to welcome these individuals with dignity and supply them with adequate services,” said Quebec Ministry of Immigration spokesperson Arianne Méthot.

The Secure Third Country Agreement is “a vital tool,” said Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada spokesperson Jeffrey MacDonald, adding that modernizing the agreement “has been a priority for the federal government for several years.” He didn’t provide details “as a result of the sensitive nature of our bilateral discussions with the U.S.”

Mr. MacDonald also identified that, in 2021-22, Quebec received over $697-million in compensation from the federal government to “provide settlement and integration services within the province.”

Frédéric Bastien, a outstanding nationalist creator and former Parti Québécois leadership candidate, filed a non-public prosecution against the Prime Minister on Jan. 12 accusing Mr. Trudeau of violating Canadian law by encouraging “illegal” border crossings.

In his court filing, Mr. Bastien cites a tweet by Mr. Trudeau from 2017 welcoming refugees to Canada, which read, “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, no matter your faith.” The Prime Minister issued the message shortly after then-U.S. president Donald Trump banned travel to the U.S. from several majority-Muslim countries.

In an interview, Mr. Bastien also noted that the Trudeau government has erected facilities at Roxham Road that include instructions on how you can apply for asylum.

An indication on Roxham Road.Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail

“If this is just not encouraging migrants to enter through Roxham Road I don’t know what’s,” he said.

Public opinion appears to be on his side. Justice for Quebec, a corporation led by Mr. Bastien, commissioned a poll late last yr showing that 68 per cent of Quebeckers desired to “close” the border crossing. A survey last spring by the respected polling firm Leger – commissioned by the Legault government and obtained by the Journal de Montréal newspaper – put the figure at 60 per cent.

But “stricter border enforcement policies correlate with increases in riskier crossings to evade authorities, and increases in tragic deaths” along borders globally, said Alison Mountz, professor at Wilfrid Laurier University and Canada Research Chair in Global Migration.

Ms. Gravel, who sees countless migrant buses and RCMP vehicles go by her property on daily basis on Roxham Road, said that the flow is currently “very well-managed.” The RCMP “takes care of it,” she said.

And closing the passage “is just not an answer,” said Mr. Anne, of Solidarity Across Borders. “Do you think that that [the closing of] Roxham Road will stop migrants?” The group advocates for open borders and the termination of the Secure Third Country Agreement in order that asylum seekers could undergo regular customs to cross each ways.

He blames the agreement and the long wait for a piece permit for Mr. Richard’s death, adding that he knows of several other people in the identical situation. “Migrants are usually not on the lookout for help, they wish to work,” he said.

With reports from The Canadian Press


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