The Gleaner

RCMP presence increases in Dundee as southbound migrants attempt crossings

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) has heightened its presence in Dundee and the surrounding region over the past several weeks, as the area has become increasingly known to migrants looking to cross irregularly into the United States from Canada.

There has been a shift since changes to the Safe Third Country Agreement closed Roxham Road as an entry point, says Sgt. Charles Poirier, a spokesperson for the RCMP. While the vast majority of asylum seekers had been using that unofficial border crossing to access Canada, officials are now seeing a spike in the number of people leaving Canada for the U.S. throughout the Champlain and Valleyfield sectors.

Poirier says that while activity concerning migrants is not completely new to the Valleyfield sector, it was previously anecdotal. The Valleyfield RCMP detachment was more focused on contraband smuggling, he suggests, while admitting the southward movement of migrants is becoming more of a concern. And, since September, police have been noticing a worrying trend where migrants have begun to use railways to cross into the U.S., including the line crossing the border at Dundee.

“There have been a few incidences. It is not happening everyday,” says Poirier of individuals who have been found walking or even driving on railway lines. In other cases, vehicles have been abandoned on or along the tracks after becoming stuck in the rocks and timbers that support the rails.

A report by Radio-Canada confirms that Transport Canada has been in communication with CSX Transportation which owns the railway. The rail company has now taken measures to reduce train speeds in this sector to better detect any obstacles that may be on the tracks.

“It is a difficult situation. It is demanding a lot of effort,” Poirier says, while pointing to the elevated risks involved for the train conductors and operators, the migrants, and patrol officers. He confirms that officers have had to stop trains and that rail lines have been closed, in some cases for hours, to avert possible accidents.

Working with locals

“We cannot do this work alone,” says Poirier. “This area is basically fields and woods, and we can’t do this work without citizens’ help,” he explains, noting the RCMP have resorted in some cases to installing barricades on private property to block access to rail lines.

Poirier encourages residents to stay vigilant and to communicate with the Valleyfield RCMP detachment in the event they come across any articles of clothing or possessions that have been abandoned. If citizens see something out of the ordinary, however, Poirier says it is important to call 9-1-1 directly and the dispatcher will communicate with the appropriate police or emergency unit.

He says that much of the activity involving migrants is related to what he refers to as a crime of opportunity, where people are using taxis, Ubers, or rental cars to get as close to the border as possible. At the same time, he admits they are also investigating human smuggling networks they believe are active in the region. In these instances, Poirier says the individuals arrive at an international airport in Montreal, Toronto and even Vancouver, and within hours “We find them at the border.”

In either instance, Poirier says the RCMP is concerned about the coming winter. “The nights are becoming colder. People will get lost,” he says. “In the past we were not as prepared,” he admits, noting the police force has invested in snowmobiles and rescue toboggans with the understanding they may be called into “search and rescue mode.”

“This also puts our officers at risk,” Poirier says, insisting the RCMP is not taking this lightly. He acknowledges recent tragedies, such as the drownings in Akwesasne and the family who froze to death near a border crossing in Manitoba, weigh heavily on their minds.

“We are taking this very seriously. The consequences are there,” he says.

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