St. Lawrence River smuggling in spotlight after drownings

The deaths of two men trying to cross the St. Lawrence River into the United States from Ontario has put the spotlight on human smuggling in the Cornwall area.

Cigarettes, other goods more likely to be smuggled than people, residents say

Investigators looking into deaths of 2 men on the St. Lawrence River near Cornwall, Ont. 1:47

The deaths of two men trying to cross the St. Lawrence River into the United States from Ontario has put the spotlight on human smuggling in the Cornwall area.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency said Friday a Quebec man was allegedly trying to smuggle three men into the United States on a personal watercraft when it capsized Wednesday morning near the east end of Cornwall Island in Akwesasne Mohawk territory.

Two men from India drowned, officials said, while another Indian migrant and the accused smuggler were rescued and taken into custody.

Locals said Saturday it's about a 15-minute trip to New York state from Ontario by boat, making it a well-known route for smugglers.

"I do see a lot of police officers out on the water checking boats and checking drivers licences … and their fishing licences," Cornwall resident John Fisher told CBC News.

Cornwall Coun. Justin Towndale says there's a constant issue with tobacco smuggling across the St. Lawrence River, but human smuggling is rare. (CBC)

Cornwall Coun. Justin Towndale said it's more common to see goods such as cigarettes smuggled across the border, although they typically see two human smuggling cases a year.

"This is a tragedy, obviously," he said. "When two people lose their lives it's a time to pause and reflect on that, but it's also a time to look at the greater issue.

"It's not a surprising thing because we are a border community. The border crossing here — the St. Lawrence River — is a very short crossing … I'd say it's been on the radar in recent years, but I wouldn't say it's a regular occurrence."

Akwesasne Mohawk police have charged Louie John McDonald of Snye, Que., with two counts of criminal negligence causing death, one count of failing to comply with a probation order and one count of conspiring to bring an alien into the United States

The other man, Mayur Girishkimar Patel, 20, from India has been charged with three counts of misrepresentation under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

Both are expected to appear in court next week.

Canadian and American border patrol, the RCMP and Akwesasne Mohawk police continue to investigate.

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