When U.S. authorities found the body of Mavis Otuteye on Friday afternoon, she was in a ditch, about a kilometre from the Manitoba border. The 57-year-old Ghanaian woman had possibly succumbed to hypothermia since being reported missing in Kittson County, Minn., the day before. Authorities believe she was on her way to Canada.
Her case, the first known death among a recent spate of asylum seekers entering Canada from the United States at unauthorized border crossings, has renewed calls for federal action to discourage migrants from making the dangerous journey.
Ms. Otuteye was identified by the Kittson County Sheriff's Department, who, along with the United States Border Patrol, discovered her body near the small community of Noyes, Minn. The full autopsy report is still pending, but it appears she was trying to cross into Emerson-Franklin, Man., a popular destination for asylum seekers from the United States.
Greg Janzen, the reeve of Emerson-Franklin, said Ms. Otuteye's death should spur the government to action.
"How many lives are we gonna lose through this whole thing?" he said. "I think it's time the federal government quits monitoring the situation and does something. Because there's been absolutely nothing done to stop the flood of people coming across."
The RCMP stopped 859 people between official border points in April, according to the force's most recent figures, and more than 2,500 so far this year, including 477 interceptions in Manitoba.
The Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the United States, signed in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, means that with few exceptions, refugee claimants must make their claim in the first safe country they arrive in. That means virtually all asylum seekers attempting to enter Canada through a U.S. port of entry will be turned away.
But because Canada is a signatory of the United Nations' 1951 Refugee Convention, asylum seekers entering the country between border points are not automatically deported and may make asylum claims.
That has led to calls from migrants' rights groups to suspend the Safe Third Country Agreement, especially in light of the anti-refugee and anti-immigrant rhetoric of U.S. President Donald Trump.
In Question Period on Wednesday, NDP MP Jenny Kwan called on the government to do just that in response to Ms. Otuteye's death.
"Mr. Speaker, we have just seen one of the horrors of Canada's so-called Safe Third Country Agreement with the U.S.," she said. "How many more tragedies do we need to see before the government suspends the agreement?"
In his response, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen did not refer to the border agreement but discouraged migrants from crossing the border irregularly and extended condolences to Ms. Otuteye's family.
Mr. Janzen said he supports changes to the U.S. border agreement that would make border crossings less treacherous.
"Let's amend it so they can come to the port of entry where it's safe," he said.
At some points in the past year, Emerson-Franklin saw as many as 50 asylum seekers passing through town each week, Mr. Janzen has said. The trip was especially dangerous in winter, when the bitter cold and wide-open landscape of the area led to some migrants getting lost and suffering from exposure. In January, a Ghanaian man lost his fingers after suffering severe frostbite.
Spring has brought new perils for disoriented border jumpers, Mr. Janzen said. He worries about people getting lost in the towering crops on the Manitoba side of the border this time of year.
"What are the farmers going to find in their fields?" he said.
Maggie Yeboah of the Ghanaian Union of Manitoba said the organization has determined that Ms. Otuteye was from Accra, the capital, but knows little else about her.
Members of the province's Ghanaian community are still processing the loss, Ms. Yeboah said, but she described the news as "a shock."
About 50 Ghanaian asylum seekers have arrived in Manitoba since last July, she said, with the number increasing since December. Many of them have been LGBTQ Muslims fleeing persecution back home on the basis of their sexual orientation – and fearful of their standing in the United States under Mr. Trump, who called for a ban on Muslim travel during the election campaign and has twice tried to ban travel from several predominantly Muslim countries since taking office.
Ms. Yeboah attributed the increase in Ghanaian asylum seekers to "their determination to move from the States, because they are afraid of going back to Ghana, one. And two, thinking that Trump will do as he said. And three, Justin Trudeau saying that he would welcome them."
With files from The Canadian Press