REGINA, Saskatchewan (AP) — A woman has been charged with human smuggling after Canadian police last week intercepted a vehicle carrying nine refugee claimants who authorities believe crossed the border from the United States, officials said Wednesday.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police said the woman was stopped Friday night on the Canadian side of the border between the North Portal and Northgate crossings, the legal entry points into the Canadian prairie province of Saskatchewan from North Dakota.
Police said nine people from West Africa were in the vehicle. RCMP Inspector Donovan Fisher said the nine were released and have applied for refugee protection. He would not confirm the ages, gender or nationalities of the claimants.
The police statement said an investigation into organized human smuggling in southeastern Saskatchewan began in December after border office officers said there was evidence to suggest smugglers were bringing foreign nationals into Canada from the United States.
On Friday, American border authorities identified a suspect in the investigation as he entered the U.S., the statement said. They notified their Canadian counterparts, who in turn alerted the RCMP "that a smuggling attempt may be imminent." The vehicle was stopped that night. A home in Regina was searched Saturday and a significant amount of foreign currency was found, the RCMP said.
Michelle Omoruyi, 43, has been charged with human smuggling and conspiracy to commit human smuggling. She is to appear in court May 15.
Police said the U.S. Border Patrol has arrested other people related to the same investigation, but no details have been released. Fisher wouldn't say if anyone else is involved in the alleged smuggling or if the woman charged is a Canadian citizen.
There has been an influx of refugees crossing into Canada from the U.S., but Fisher said it's the first case this year in which the RCMP has intercepted migrants entering Saskatchewan without authorization.
Figures released Wednesday by the federal government show the RCMP intercepted 887 people crossing at official border points in March — up from 658 in February and 315 in January. Of those stopped in March, 644 were picked up in Quebec, 170 in Manitoba and 71 in British Columbia. There were lone crossers in Alberta and New Brunswick.
Some of those coming to Canada in spots such as Emerson, Manitoba, have said they were motivated to leave the U.S. because of the new administration, fearful that their asylum claims wouldn't be treated fairly or that general anti-immigrant sentiment was rising. Others all along had Canada as their intended final destination, obtaining U.S. visas solely for the purpose of coming here.