The death of a Haitian migrant has reignited the debate over the Wroxham Road border crossing

Asylum seekers, poorly dressed for the weather, board a shuttle bus after being processed by RCMP at the U.S.-Canada border on Roxham Road, Hemingford, Que., Jan. 14.Christine Mucci/The Globe and Mail

The death of a Haitian migrant near Roxham Road in Quebec has sparked debate in the province about how to respond to a surge in asylum seekers entering the country through irregular border crossings.

Body of Fritzenl Richard, 44, Retrieved January 5 In a wooded area near the popular informal entry point about an hour south of Montreal. Provincial police said he was trying to reach family in the United States and may have died of hypothermia after going missing.

An immigrant advocacy group that is helping the family said Mr. Richard was originally from Haiti, entered Canada via Wroxham Road at an unknown time and was struggling to obtain a work permit. “Unfortunately, he was in a precarious situation and was not able to make the last visit,” said Hadi Ann, Solidarity Across Borders spokesperson.

Helen Gravel, who lives next to the US border on Roxham Road, said that in the past few months, she and her neighbors have seen families crossing the woods near her home to enter the US.

Helen Gravel looks out the window of her home in Wroxham Road.Christine Mucci/The Globe and Mail

Helen Gravel walks across the open fields on her property where she often sees people and families crossing near the US-Canada border.Christine Mucci/The Globe and Mail

“Even if there aren’t many of them, we won’t wait for them to die in the forest to do anything,” he said.

Mr. Richard’s death has put a new spotlight on the informal border crossing at Wroxham Road, where hundreds of thousands of migrants have entered Canada in recent years, largely because of the Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the United States, a long-standing agreement that means border agents in each country must screen asylum seekers from the other. Should be turned away if they present themselves at border crossings on public land.

The unassuming cul-de-sac near customs in St.-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que., has become an “official unofficial point of entry,” said Christina Clarke-Kazak, associate professor at the University of Ottawa’s graduate school. Public and International Affairs.

Concrete blocks and stone roads block both sides of the border in sparsely populated areas. A narrow gravel path and signs with information about the asylum-seeking process lead immigrants from the United States to the RCMP installation.

The RCMP detained 34,478 asylum seekers who did not use official ports of entry to enter Quebec between January and November 2022, according to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada datacompared to only 316 in the rest of the country.

The federal opposition has repeatedly called for a review of the Safe Third Country agreement, but concerns over the situation have intensified in Quebec.

A view of Wroxham Road towards the US-Canada border.Christine Mucci/The Globe and Mail

“The federal government must renegotiate the Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States as soon as possible,” said Yvan Sauves, a spokesman for Premier Francois Legault.

“There is an urgent need to work on Roxham Road,” Mr. Sauves said, adding that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “must ensure that other provinces take responsibility for their proportion of asylum seekers.” It’s not right that Quebec alone has to manage this.”

Quebec is “concerned” about the increase in asylum applications since 2017 and “the ability to welcome these people with dignity and provide them with adequate services,” said Ariane Methot, spokeswoman for the Quebec ministry’s immigration ministry.

The Safe Third Country Agreement Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada spokesman Jeffrey MacDonald said it was “an important tool,” adding that treaty modernization “has been a priority for the government for several years.” He did not provide details “due to the sensitive nature of our bilateral discussions with the United States”.

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

Frédéric Bastien, a prominent nationalist writer and former Parti Québécois leadership candidate, filed a private lawsuit against the prime minister on Jan. 12, accusing Mr. Trudeau of violating Canadian law by encouraging “illegal” border crossings.

In his court filing, Mr. Bastian cited a tweet from Mr. Trudeau welcoming refugees to Canada from 2017, which read, “To those fleeing persecution, terror and war, Canadians welcome you, regardless of your religion.” The Prime Minister’s message came shortly after then US President Donald Trump banned travel to the US from several Muslim-majority countries.

In an interview, Mr. Bastian also noted that the Trudeau government has created facilities on Wroxham Road that include instructions for applying for asylum.

A sign on Wroxham Road.Christine Mucci/The Globe and Mail

“If that doesn’t encourage migrants to enter via Wroxham Road, I don’t know what does,” he said.

Public opinion seems to be on his side. Justice for Quebec, an organization headed by Mr. Bastien, conducted a poll late last year showing that 68 per cent of Quebecers want the border crossing to be “closed”. A survey last spring by the respected polling firm Léger — commissioned by the Legault government and obtained by the Journal de Montréal newspaper — put the number at 60 percent.

“Stricter border enforcement policies are associated with an increase in risky crossings to evade authorities and an increase in tragic deaths along borders globally,” said Alison Mountz, professor at Wilfrid Laurier University and Canada Research Chair in Global Migration.

Ms Gravelle, who sees numerous migrant buses and RCMP vehicles pass her property every day on Wroxham Road, said the flow is currently “very well managed”. The RCMP “takes care of it,” she said.

And Passage closed “Not a solution,” said Mr Ann, of Solidarity Across Borders. “What do you think? [the closing of] Will Roxham Road stop migrants? The group advocates for open borders and an end to safe third country agreements so that asylum seekers can go through regular customs to cross either route.

He blamed the long wait for contracts and work permits for Mr. Richard’s death, adding that he knew several others in the same situation. “Immigrants are not looking for help, they want to work,” he said.

With reports from The Canadian Press

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