The president of the India Association of Manitoba says he hopes the RCMP and the Consulate General of India can identify four bodies found in southern Manitoba near the U.S. border.
Ramandeep Grewal said a representative from the consulate in Toronto was to arrive in the province Friday night and start work with investigators Saturday.
U.S. border officers allege the four were part of a group of Indian migrants trying to cross into the United States from Canada.
Grewal said his group has also been trying to track down the relatives of the family.
‘We want to first identify who exactly these people are, because families back home will want the bodies back,” Grewal said in a phone interview Friday.
They might be scared about the international attention and the association wants to support them, he said.
“We want to tell them it’s always a good idea to talk to investigators. It’s tragic news for all of us. It’s devastating.”
The four bodies, including a baby and a teen, were found Wednesday in the snow near Emerson, Man., just metres from the U.S. border. RCMP have said it’s believed the family froze to death,but autopsy results aren’t available yet.
A Florida man, Steve Shand, has been charged with human smuggling and is to appear in court Monday.
U.S. investigators said they believe the deaths are linked to a larger human smuggling operation.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday that Canada is doing all it can to stop people from risking their lives by crossing the border illegally.
“It is so tragic to see a family perish like this, victims of human traffickers, misinformation, and people who have taken advantage of their desire to build a better world,” Trudeau said.
“That is why we are doing all we can to discourage people from trying to cross the border irregularly or illegally. We know that there are great risks in doing so. That is why there are regular patrols to try to prevent and support people who take these unacceptable risks.”
“This is a grave tragedy,” Ajay Bisaria, India’s high commissioner to Canada, posted on social media. “We will work with Canadian authorities to investigate these disturbing events.”
Court documents filed in support of Shand’s arrest allege one of the people spent a significant amount of money to come to Canada on a fraudulent student visa.
The documents say a U.S. border patrol officer in North Dakota stopped a passenger van just south of the border Wednesday. The court papers allege Shand was driving and was with two undocumented Indian nationals.
Around the same time, the documents say, five other people were spotted by law enforcement in the snow nearby. The five, who were also Indian nationals, told officers they’d been walking for more than 11 hours in frigid conditions. One man said another group had become separated from them overnight.
Mounties were alerted and began looking in the area on the Canadian side of the border.
RCMP say officers searching in deep snow and nearly impassable terrain found three bodies together — a man, a woman and a baby — just 10 metres from the border. The search continued and a teen boy was found a short distance away.
U.S. Justice Department officials said some of the people picked up Wednesday appeared to be headed to an unstaffed gas plant facility near the hamlet of St. Vincent, Minn., just a football field away from the Canada-U. S. border.
The plant and its several buildings appeared deserted, but operational Friday. The front gate was open but the driveway was choked with blowing snow.
Grewal said he has been hearing from hundreds of Indo Canadians who are shocked by the news.
“The community wants to get to the bottom of this.”
The idea of people trying to sneak into the U.S. from Canada is almost unheard of, said Wanda Letexier, a lifelong resident of the border community of Walhalla, N.D.
“It’s not something that you ever hear about,” said Letexier, who was behind the counter at a duty-free shop in Pembina, N.D., the last northbound rest stop before the Manitoba border crossing.
“People around here and in the Midwest know when it gets cold, don’t leave your vehicle. You don’t get out no matter what.”
— With files from Steve Lambert in Winnipeg and James McCarten in Pembina, N.D.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship
Fakiha Baig, The Canadian Press