Human smuggling puts Akwesasne community at risk, officials say
13 people recently detained after illegal attempt to cross into the U.S. near Quebec-Ontario border
The Akwesasne Mohawk Police say instances of human smuggling near the Ontario-Quebec border have increased in recent months and people illegally attempting to cross into the U.S. have put community members at risk.
Last week, the police service's marine unit detained 13 people while patrolling the St. Regis River, also known as Kana:takon, across the Quebec border. All were trying to enter the United States.
Police said the group was seen getting off a boat with their luggage on a shoreline near the American border. Everyone attempted to run from police, but officers say they were able to arrest the people on land and hand them over to Canada's immigration department, but continue to search for the boat operator.
Akwesasne, situated on the St. Lawrence river, shares three borders: Ontario, Quebec and New York State. This makes it prone to smuggling activity, according to Akwesasne Mohawk Chief of Police Shawn Dulude.
"Because of where we are, criminals will always try to exploit our community," said Dulude.
Health and safety risks to community
In the last several months, Dulude said more people have attempted to flee from police when they've been spotted, either in the backyards of people's homes or on the streets. Regardless, any activity of human smuggling, he said, poses serious safety and health risks to the Akwesasne community — especially given the current situation with the Omicron variant of COVID-19.
"Foreign nationals entering the way they are, often we don't know if they're infected or not," said Dulude.
"There are people from all walks of life in different parts of the world that are coming through here. ... 'We just want to make sure that everybody is safe."
AMPS Detain Thirteen Individuals Attempting to Illegally Enter the United States: <a href="https://t.co/92N3txBvNe">https://t.co/92N3txBvNe</a> <a href="https://t.co/t4vRuQ56wc">pic.twitter.com/t4vRuQ56wc</a>—@MCAkwesasne
Grand Chief of Akwesasne Abram Benedict shares those concerns, adding this type of illegal activity has been an ongoing issue in the region.
"Any human trafficking or smuggling through our community is extremely concerning to us," he said.
Beyond the potential spread of COVID-19 in the community, Benedict said there's often little known about foreign nationals that make their way to the region.
"In many cases [they] have either criminal records, reasons that they are not able to be admissible into those countries," he said.
Benedict said illegal border crossing is often attempted under extremely unsafe circumstances, whether that be in the middle of the night or extreme weather conditions that "creates a greater risk for those individuals."
Illegal activity likely to continue
Benedict and Dulude say they don't foresee an end to this type of activity, but Akwesasne police will continue to make arrests.
In a statement, Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) spokesperson Judith Gadbois-St–Cyr said the department couldn't comment on specific cases, but it "takes its border and national security responsibilities very seriously," which includes managing and enforcing immigration policies.
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"Individuals who violate Canada's immigration laws are subject to serious consequences, including criminal charges, court fines, probation, imprisonment and a criminal record," the statement read.
It did not say what the CBSA was doing to enhance security in eastern Ontario or western Quebec.
Any community members who see or know of any suspicious activity in the area are asked to contact Akwesasne Mohawk Police.