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Jonathan Kaiser, a grandson of local farmer Matthias Kaiser, approaches the area where a dead body was found on their land in St-Bernard-de-Lacolle, QC, near the U.S. border.Bernard Brault/The Globe and Mail

While politicians in Ottawa and Quebec City bicker and negotiate over what to do about Roxham Road, locals must put up with frequent RCMP stops while at the same time trying to keep an eye open to help Mounties enforce border rules.

Matthias Kaiser, a farmer who owns land in the area near what is now internationally known as the official unofficial point of entry for asylum seekers in Canada, is used to interacting with law-enforcement agents from both sides of the border.

But with the rise in irregular crossings at Roxham Road and the RCMP operation there, “it’s more severe now,” he said. Mr. Kaiser, members of his family and his employees were all stopped on several occasions by the RCMP last fall.

Once, he was intercepted while driving with his wife on Alberton Road – Mr. Kaiser’s private farm road lined by his soy, alfalfa, and corn fields that runs 2½ kilometres to the east of Roxham Road and is the subject of intense scrutiny by the RCMP. Five police cars came after them.

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Matthias Kaiser is a farmer who owns land in St-Bernard-de-Lacolle, near the U.S. border. The area has become known as an unofficial point of entry for asylum seekers in Canada.Bernard Brault/The Globe and Mail

“Unbelievable. I thought they were going to arrest me … When they asked me what I [was doing] here, I said, ‘Well, I drive on my road, and what are you doing on my road?’ ” Mr. Kaiser recalled.

He allowed the RCMP to patrol Alberton Road under the condition that they “put some gravel down once in a while,” something they have not done yet, he said.

On another occasion last fall, officers stopped his youngest son, driving with a Guatemalan employee. Somebody had to go and get the employee’s paperwork to prove he was not being smuggled.

RCMP officers also stopped other employees during harvest time while they were transporting truckloads of grain, saying they were looking for someone who got out of a car in the area. The interruption disrupted Mr. Kaiser’s operations, and he lost patience with the officers. “I had to apologize” after the heated exchange, the farmer said.

“I’m surprised they’re not here yet,” Mr. Kaiser said of the RCMP when The Globe and Mail met him on the private road Friday morning.

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RCMP officers return to their vehicle after approaching The Globe’s rental car on a private farm road near Mr. Kaiser's property.Bernard Brault/The Globe and Mail

Sure enough, the flashing lights of a police cruiser and two agents appeared near The Globe’s rental vehicle parked on the farm road. Constable Tommy Pepin politely asked for ID and explained they wanted to make sure the vehicle was not abandoned by someone who planned to cross the U.S. border through the fields on foot.

Mr. Kaiser stressed that he has nothing against the officers and wants to maintain a good relationship with the RCMP. Most stops are short, he said, and he understands the importance for federal agents to look for potential smugglers.

But he questions the relevance of such efforts on the Canadian side. “They’re running after us, they’re running after one man but on the other hand, they let thousands come in, which they have no control over,” he reasoned, referring to Roxham Road.

The famous cul-de-sac, at the border between New York State and Quebec’s Montérégie region, has become the primary route for irregular entries into Canada in recent years. The RCMP intercepted 39,171 asylum seekers who did not use official ports of entry to enter Quebec in 2022, according to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada data, compared with just 369 in the rest of the country.

People who cross irregularly elsewhere are often brought to the RCMP’s Roxham Road facility for their application to be processed there, said Sergeant Charles Poirier, a spokesperson for the Mounties.

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An RCMP officer enters a migrant processing centre near Roxham Road, where people who cross irregularly elsewhere are often brought upon attempting to cross the U.S.-Canada border.Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail

The long-standing Safe Third Country Agreement requires border agents from the United States and Canada to turn away asylum seekers from the other country if they arrive at official land border crossings. Because of this and given all the media attention it has received, most people coming from the U.S. who want to claim asylum in Canada use Roxham Road to avoid being turned away.

But sometimes, through bad luck, lack of knowledge of the area or for other reasons, people cross elsewhere, Sgt. Poirier said.

The RCMP’s main concern remains the smuggling of items such as firearms and drugs, he said. As the interaction with Constable Pepin showed, Mounties are also on the watch for smugglers and migrants going the opposite direction, into the U.S., sometimes risking their lives trying to cross in isolated areas in difficult weather.

This is likely what happened to Fritznel Richard, a Haitian migrant whose body was found on Mr. Kaiser’s land on Jan. 5. A little less than a year earlier, an Indian family of four died near the border between Manitoba and the U.S.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection noticed a drastic uptick in recent months of people trying to enter North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin illegally from Canada. Swanton sector, which includes counties in New Hampshire, New York and Vermont, also had “historic highs” of apprehensions and encounters with migrants illegally crossing into the U.S., the U.S. border service said in a news release last week.

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Coolbreeze camping on Montée Glass in St-Bernard-de-Lacolle, on Feb. 17.Bernard Brault/The Globe and Mail

Sgt. Poirier worked for years with the local RCMP detachment, whose agents take care of Roxham Road arrivals and patrol a vast territory between Valleyfield and Lake Memphremagog. He said good relationships with locals are paramount to help prevent smuggling and avoid other deaths.

Dominique Martin, the owner of Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle’s Coolbreeze camping, said RCMP officers have questioned his clients on occasion. “If you walk on the road with a backpack, they are sure to stop you,” he said. Conversely, Mr. Martin called the Mounties several times when taxis left people near the campground, suspecting they made the hour drive from Montreal to cross irregularly into the U.S.

“It’s often people who call us,” Sgt. Poirier said of the locals. The RCMP monitors numerous surveillance cameras on the border, but “we need their intelligence,” he stressed.

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