Justin Trudeau terms deaths of 4 Indians in blizzard as 'tragic'
Ottawa/UNI: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has termed the deaths of four Indians, including an infant and a teen, in a blizzard on the Canada-US border as “tragic” and said they were victims of human trafficking.
“It is so tragic to see a family perish like this, victims of human traffickers, misinformation, and people who have taken advantage of their desire to build a better world,” PM Trudeau said in French when asked about the deaths during a news conference in Ottawa on Friday.
He said his government is doing all it can to discourage people from trying to cross the border in an illegal way.
“That is why we are doing all we can to discourage people from trying to cross the border in irregular or illegal ways,” he said, and added, “We know that there are great risks in doing so.”
The four victims – who have been described by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in Manitoba as a man, a woman, an infant and a teenaged boy – have not been publicly identified.
Indian High Commissioner to Canada Ajay Bisaria termed the deaths a tragedy, and said on Twitter that an Indian consular team was travelling to Manitoba and would work with Canadian authorities to investigate.
India’s External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar expressed shock at the deaths. “Have asked our Ambassadors in the US and Canada to urgently respond to the situation,” he said on Twitter.
The bodies were found by RCMP about 10 km east of Emerson, Manitoba, on Wednesday afternoon.
The search began after border officials in the US encountered a group of Indians who had walked over the border, and said that a family that had been travelling with them had got separated during the passage.
It was extremely cold at the time, with blizzard conditions and temperatures reaching -40 C with the wind chill. There is also no shelter in the remote rural area.
A 47-year-old Florida man, Steve Shand, has been arrested, and is facing one charge in the US for allegedly transporting undocumented people.
Shand is suspected of being part of a larger human-smuggling operation at the border. He is slated to appear in court in Minnesota on Monday.
The Emerson area has been the site of significant illegal border-crossing activity in recent years, and is a particularly treacherous journey in winter.
According to the document filed in the court, one of the Indian men who walked across the border told US officials that he had paid a significant amount to come to Canada under a fraudulently obtained student visa, and was planning to enter the US illegally and travel to a relative’s home in Chicago. He said the group had walked for 11½ hours south across the border, and were expecting to be picked up on the other side.
The travellers who entered the US all spoke Gujarati. Two were treated for frostbite and exposure, with one woman in critical condition and requiring partial amputation of her hand.
Ramandeep Grewal, president of the Indian Association of Manitoba, began reaching out to Manitoba’s Indian population – which he estimates at about 50,000 – imploring anyone who knew the victims or could help identify them to get in touch.