Groups hold vigil for Haitian man found dead near U.S. border

Groups at the vigil denounced Fritznel Richard's death as unnecessary and a "brutal injustice", and they reiterated their demands that permanent resident status be given to all newcomers in Canada.

'We don't want to normalize border deaths,' says vigil organizer

man taking a mirror selfie
One of the vigil's organizers described Fritznel Richard's death as a "brutal injustice." (Fritznel Richard/Facebook)

Days after a Haitian man was found dead in Quebec near an irregular border crossing, groups held a vigil in his honour and called for changes to rules regarding migrants.

The body of 44-year-old Fritznel Richard was discovered earlier this month. Police say he appears to have died of hypothermia. Richard had been reported missing to the Montreal police in late December but a search for him was called off on Dec. 29 because police believed he had entered the U.S.

After spending a little more than a year in the province, Richard was attempting to return to the United States to be with his family, who had left Quebec a few months prior.

In a recent interview, Richard's wife told CBC News the couple struggled to make ends meet in the Montreal area, due to delays in obtaining a work permit and rising costs of food and housing.

The vigil in Richard's honour was held on Sunday evening in front of a federal immigration building in downtown Montreal.

"We wanted to show support for Fritznel Richard's family, his wife, his children, his community," said Nazila Bettache, who is part of the Caring for Social Justice Collective and helped organize Sunday's gathering.

"But [we wanted to] also show a message that we don't want to normalize border deaths. We don't want to stay silent in the face of this brutal injustice."

WATCH | Bettache explains what needs to change to avoid border deaths: 

Haitian man's death near Quebec border crossing due to unfair immigration policies, vigil organizer says

5 months ago
Duration 3:14
Nazila Bettache, who is part of the Caring for Social Justice collective, says the death of 44-year-old Fritznel Richard was a byproduct of unfair immigration policies.

Bettache says unfair border policies around the world are forcing people in search of a better life to take risks.

"Migrants are forced to travel dangerous journeys at the cost of their lives," she said.

Solidarity Without Borders was also present at the vigil. Together, the groups reiterated their calls for all newcomers  — regardless of how they enter the country — to be given permanent resident status in order to ease their transition into Canada.

Aboubacar Kane, of Solidarity Without Borders, said Richard's death could have been avoided if asylum seekers were given enough resources to build a new life.

"We want immigration laws to change be adapted to today's reality," he said. "It would be good to really accept them at the same level [as other permanent immigrants] and, really, with all of the love and compassion that's needed."

The pandemic has lengthened delays for asylum seekers to obtain work permits, putting them in precarious situations, Kane said.

Migrants have died before while trying to cross the border. In 2019, a man from the Dominican Republic was found dead in Canada near Roxham Road, the Washington Post reported. In January 2022, the bodies of four Indian migrants were found in Manitoba near the U.S. border. 

With files from Verity Stevenson, Doug Gelevan and Radio-Canada