One of the two families who died trying to cross into the United States from the St. Lawrence River was set to be deported from Canada last week, the family’s lawyer says.
The bodies of eight migrants were pulled from the waters off the portion of the Akwesasne Mohawk territory in Quebec last week, near the Canada-U.S. border. The victims belonged to two families: the Chaudhary family from India, and the Iordache family, of Romania. The latter included two young children who were both born in Canada.
Peter Ivanyi, the lawyer representing the Iordache family, said that Florin and Cristina Zenaida Iordache, both 28, had recently learned that they had run out of options for staying in Canada. The couple was set to be deported from Toronto last Wednesday.
Instead, the family of four is believed to have boarded a boat in Quebec, in an attempt to enter the U.S. illegally. Their bodies, along with the Chaudharys, were discovered on Thursday. An additional person, Casey Oakes – a member from the Akwesasne community who family and friends said was involved with human smuggling – is still missing.
“None of us can look into their minds on why they would undertake such a dangerous journey,” Mr. Ivanyi said of the Iordache family. “But I have to believe that it was to provide safety for their kids.”
The Toronto-based lawyer first began working with Florin and Cristina when they arrived in Canada in 2018. The couple lived in the Toronto area, and had two children both born in Canada: a two-year-old and a one-year-old.
In the time since, Mr. Ivanyi said, the family made multiple applications to remain in Canada on the basis that they feared persecution as Roma in Romania. The Roma have historically faced discrimination across Europe, including in Romania, where they make up one of the largest ethnic minorities.
“I don’t think they had full-time work back home. And their kids didn’t have a prospect of going to school, or getting medical care, or anything like that,” Mr. Ivanyi said.
The lawyer described the father, Florin, as “very intelligent” – someone who seemed much older than his 28 years.
“I always felt like life really weighed him down,” Mr. Ivanyi said. He said Florin was particularly concerned about his two children.
“Their future consumed him. He was desperate to try to give his family – and most importantly, his two young kids – a safe future.”
The family had filed their last attempt to stay in Canada last year, by applying for a preremoval risk assessment (PRRA) with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada – a process designed for those who believe their lives are at risk, or who are in danger of torture, persecution or cruel and unusual punishment if they return to their home country.
But last month, the Iordaches received notice from IRCC that their application had been refused. The family filed for appeal immediately, Mr. Ivanyi said, but the process does not protect applicants from deportation in the meantime.
Last Sunday, he said, they were notified that they’d run out of options.
Mr. Ivanyi said he sent the news to Mr. Iordache by e-mail that day. In the e-mail, he notified the family they were to be deported on Wednesday. He never heard from them again.
The Iordaches had siblings in the southern U.S., Mr. Ivanyi said, but as of Monday afternoon, he hadn’t yet spoken with them.
Since the discovery of the bodies last week, Mr. Ivanyi said he’s seen commentary connecting the case with the closing of Roxham Road, the rural road that until last month had been used by tens of thousands of migrants to irregularly cross between Canada and the U.S. The crossing was closed in late March, after months of political pressure on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and amid questions of an overburdened refugee settlement system. But Mr. Ivanyi rejected any connection to Roxham Road – and the politicization of the issue altogether.
“Immigration and refugee work is so political, and everyone has their opinion,” he said. “Then something like this happens, and it melts even the hardest of hearts.”
“Any kid is troubling. But the fact that there’s two Canadian kids who perished in this way – it brings it home and makes it really personal.”
An IRCC spokesperson said the department was “incredibly saddened” by news of the deaths.
“Our condolences go out to the families of the deceased,” said Michelle Carbert, a spokesperson for IRCC.
The Chaudhary family was from Mehsana, a city in the western Indian state of Gujarat, according to Indian media outlets including The Hindu and The Indian Express.
Police there told The Indian Express that the parents – Praveen, 50, and Diksha, 45 – had travelled with their adult children Vidhi, 23, and Mit, 20, to Canada two months earlier on tourist visas. Relatives back in India spoke to the family by phone every few days but hadn’t heard from them in the past week.
The discovery of the Chaudhary family’s bodies prompted immediate comparisons to the case of the Patel family last year.
In January, 2022, the frozen bodies of the family of four – including two young children – were discovered in a field near Emerson, Man., after a failed attempt to cross the border into the U.S. during a brutal Prairie storm. The Patel family – Jagdish, 39; Vaishali, 37; Vihangi, 11; and Dharmik, 3 – had quietly left their home in Dingucha, a small village in Gujarat, to fly to Canada just after the new year had begun. They are believed to have paid smugglers who were part of a network spanning India, the U.S. and Canada a large sum of money to facilitate the failed border crossing.
The high-profile coverage of the Patels’ deaths did little to deter others from attempting the same journey, said Reena Kukreja, who studies Indian migrant populations at Queen’s University. She said the route remains a common – and dangerous – one.
The American Dream is still strong, she said, and with a much larger Gujarati diaspora in the U.S., it remains for that population a much more attractive destination than Canada.
In the case of the Patels, a year after their deaths, police in India charged three men for their roles in the smuggling network. But the crackdown in enforcement in India didn’t dissolve smuggling networks, it just drove them further underground, Prof. Kukreja said.
“People started looking for different routes that appeared easier to traverse and were also cited by human smugglers as easier and less risky,” she said.
“It’s disingenuous to say that restrictive policy measures or media awareness will deter migrants.”
With reports from Mike Hager in Vancouver and The Canadian Press. Additional research assistance from Stephanie Chambers.