RCMP rescue man attempting to cross through snowy Quebec forest into U.S.

A man seeking asylum in the United States was rescued near the border in Quebec’s Eastern Townships early Saturday morning after his family alerted authorities.

Officers followed tracks through 1 metre of snow, searching for man

Snowy forest
The man was found in this forest near the Province Hill Cemetery near Mansonville, Que., about 145 kilometres east of Montreal. (Brigitte Marcoux/Radio-Canada)

A man seeking asylum in the United States was rescued near the border in Quebec's Eastern Townships early Saturday morning after his family alerted authorities.

According to the RCMP, the man's family called for help at around 3 a.m. on Saturday, reporting the man had started his journey to the U.S. about 13 hours before.

RCMP officers went to the man's last known location and found his tracks.

They followed those tracks for quite a distance, RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Tasha Adams said. Provincial police were called in to help, and the U.S. border patrol was also alerted to the situation. 

A search began just south of the border as well, Adams said.

Finally, the man was found near the Province Hill Cemetery in Mansonville, Que. The cemetery is roughly 800 metres from the border with Vermont. The terrain is a mix of hilly farmland and forest.

Adams said the man was conscious but in poor health when found, motionless in the frigid overnight cold. He was transported to hospital to be treated for hypothermia and frostbite.

"Our officers were walking in three feet of snow. It was very difficult with the weather," she said.

The situation could have been much worse if the man wasn't found when he was, Adams said.

Body found earlier this year

The head of the Potton fire service, James Bouthillier, said there is about six kilometres between the fire station and the border, but there is no direct path and "they are often crossing directly through the forest."

There are also hazards like the Missisquoi River to navigate, said Bouthillier, recalling a similar rescue in 2021. He said the fire service has not had to help rescue many people over the years, but he believes it could become a crossing of interest for asylum seekers in the future.

Earlier this month, a man's body was found about five kilometres from Roxham Road, located between Champlain, N.Y., and Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que. It is a common place for people to cross into Canada when seeking asylum.

In this case, however, Fritznel Richard, 44, was crossing into the United States with hopes of joining family there. He had been missing since late December. Police said he died of hypothermia.

In the first two months of 2022, 4,500 people applied for asylum after crossing on Roxham Road.

Thousands crossing into Quebec

According to data published by the federal government, between January and November 2022, 45,250 asylum seekers arrived in Quebec, a significant jump compared to 2020 and 2021 when pandemic restrictions were in place.

In 2021, by comparison, when the Roxham Road crossing was closed for much of the year, only 7,290 newcomers entered the country through the province.

This increase in asylum seekers is putting a strain on community organizations in Montreal.

Several community groups gathered this month to have said they are being stretched to the breaking point by the rise in asylum seekers and refugees settling in the city.

"We are at 400 per cent of our capacity, without substantial funding to meet the needs," said Jean-Sébastien Patrice in a statement. He heads Cafeteria MultiCaf, a community food service in the Côte-des-Neiges district.

Community groups like his say they need more help to help meet the rising demand.

with files from CBC's Kristy Rich and Radio-Canada


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