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Prime minister calls freezing deaths of four near U.S. border mind-boggling, tragic

Man charged with human smuggling, U.S. border officers allege the four were migrants

Canada is doing all it can to stop people from risking their lives by crossing the border illegally, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday.

Trudeau was responding to the deaths of a family that tried to walk across the Manitoba-United States border in frigid conditions.

“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 in French when asked about the deaths at an unrelated news conference in Ottawa.

“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.”

Four frozen bodies, including those of a baby and a teen, were found Wednesday in the snow near Emerson, Man., just metres from the U.S. border. RCMP say it’s believed they froze to death.

U.S. border officers allege the four were part of a group of Indian migrants trying to cross into the U.S. from Canada.

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.

“This is a grave tragedy. An Indian consular team is travelling today from (Toronto) to Manitoba to co-ordinate and help,” 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.

—The Canadian Press

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