WINNIPEG — Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says the federal government has failed to reduce the risk in illicit border crossings because it has not tried to persuade the U.S. president to soften his immigration and deportation policies.
A woman who authorities believe was originally from Ghana was found dead from apparent hypothermia near the U.S.-Manitoba border on Friday. Mavis Otuteye, 57, was found roughly one kilometre south of the border near Noyes in a remote part of northwestern Minnesota.
Pallister said the President Donald Trump’s crackdown is driving people to sneak across the border and risk their lives.
“We need to address the root cause of this … the desperation people clearly are feeling — combined with the hope they feel — as they pursue a better life and come from the United States to Canada and to Manitoba,” Pallister said Wednesday.
“In the absence of any rational arguments to persuade people, they tend not to change their mind. I haven’t any evidence that our federal government has attempted to persuade the president of the need for him to change his approach.”
Pallister also said the federal government has not listened to his request to talk to immigrant communities in cities such as Minneapolis to dissuade people from making the journey across fields and ditches into Canada.
“This was one of the aspects I communicated weeks and weeks ago that hasn’t been acted upon.”
A spokesman for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said Goodale was not able to respond directly to Pallister’s comments, but added that the government has been clear in its messaging.
“Entering Canada outside of ports of entry is illegal and anyone doing so will be arrested,” press secretary Scott Bardsley wrote in an email.
“Irregularly crossing the border is not a free ticket to Canada. Anyone who is found to not be a genuine refugee will be removed according to Canadian law.”
Refugee advocates and immigration lawyers say many refugee claimants have no choice but to cross through fields and ditches because, under the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement, they are automatically turned back at official border crossings if they have already made a claim in the U.S.
People who make it onto Canadian soil before being caught are entitled to Canada’s normal refugee process. Since January, more than 2,000 asylum-seekers have walked across the border —mostly in Quebec, Manitoba and British Columbia — before turning themselves into authorities.
“I have always said that the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement puts people’s lives in danger and that’s exactly what’s happened right here,” Winnipeg immigration lawyer Bashir Khan said.
“Because of the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement, that woman died of hypothermia. She should have never been forced by Canadian law to go in the open field to surreptitiously enter Canada. She should have been allowed to come right to the port of entry on the Canada-U.S. border and make a refugee claim.”
Some refugee advocacy groups, along with the NDP, have called on Ottawa to suspend the agreement, but the government has said the U.S. asylum system continues to meet international obligations.
Officials with an organization that helps asylum seekers said their biggest concern has been that someone could die while trying to illegally cross into Canada.
“This has been our greatest fear all along, is that people are risking their lives to make this crossing,” said Maj. Rob Kerr with the Salvation Army in Winnipeg.
“It’s surprising now that it’s happened at this point in time, at the end of May. It was our greatest fear back in February, March when it was so cold out. We were greatly worried that people were going to end up injured or hurt or lose their lives making this crossing.”
Chief deputy Matt Vig with the Kittson County sheriff’s office in Minnesota told WDAZ-TV that Otuteye was reported missing a day before her body was found and was probably heading to Canada on foot to try to reunite with her daughter.
He said Otuteye had been living in Delaware for the last several years.
— With files from Jennifer Graham in Regina and The Associated Press
Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press