Cold snap will make unauthorized border crossing more dangerous, police say

Attempting to walk across the Canada-U.S. border can be especially dangerous in the winter, authorities warn. This file photo shows the area where New Brunswick borders Union Corners, Me. (Shane Fowler/CBC - image credit)
Attempting to walk across the Canada-U.S. border can be especially dangerous in the winter, authorities warn. This file photo shows the area where New Brunswick borders Union Corners, Me. (Shane Fowler/CBC - image credit)

The New Brunswick RCMP are warning people against illegally crossing the border between the province and Maine at any time, but especially during the freezing cold snap expected today.

RCMP Cpl. Hans Ouellette said Thursday there have been recent attempts to cross the border this month. That, and the -45C windchill forecast this weekend, prompted the force to send out an advisory.

Ouellette said the area between the two countries is large, remote and could be dangerous, especially in winter.

"There's swamps there's lakes there's rivers, there's really forested areas, and also maybe wide open farm fields as well," he said.

"People can be putting themselves in some real danger and they risk getting lost or risk being exposed to the elements."

Ryan Snoddon/CBC
Ryan Snoddon/CBC

Environment Canada has issued an extreme cold warning for the entire province.

The agency says the coldest wind chill values will be near -45C Friday afternoon and into Saturday morning, with some areas seeing a -47C wind chill.

For those places with wind chills between -40 and -47, frostbite risk is very high, at only five to 10 minutes of exposure required.

The border towns from Edmundston to St. Stephen are expected to see temperatures in that range.

Last January in southern Manitoba, a family from India froze to death near the U.S. border.

Ouellette said it can be just as dangerous to drive across the border without going through a checkpoint as it is to walk.

"Some of these paths and trails crossing our international border can be boggy, and then all of a sudden you're stuck without a car because your car is actually stuck."

According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, two separate groups of people were caught crossing from New Brunswick to Maine without going through a checkpoint.

2 groups try in January

In a news release, the agency said the first attempt was on Jan. 19. Agents were alerted of people crossing without authorization near Caswell, which shares a border with Grand Falls in northwestern New Brunswick.

The agency said agents found footprints in the snow, followed them and arrested seven adult men from Mexico.

One of the men had signs of frostbite and was taken to hospital, treated and later released. The agency did not share information about the extent of his injuries.

Five of the men did not have a record of making an illegal crossing before, the agency said, and were fined and "removed." The other two had been previously removed from the United States and are facing charges.

Ryan Brissette, spokesperson with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said the two people who have been previously removed were turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, also known as ICE.

The remaining five were returned to Canada because "they had immigration status there," said Brissette, who did not say what that status was.

On Jan. 20, agents from the Calais Station responded to "illegal cross-border activity" near Lambert Lake, which shares a border with St. Croix in southwestern New Brunswick. Agents saw "a suspicious vehicle" and stopped it for an immigration inspection, the release said.

Agents determined all six adult Vietnamese passengers were not authorized to cross the border to the U.S., the release said, and were arrested. The driver of the vehicle, a U.S. citizen, was arrested and is being investigated for human smuggling.

Brissette said all six had immigration status in Canada and were returned there.

What happens when someone is caught crossing the border without going through a checkpoint depends on their particular circumstances, he said. They could see fines, assets seizures, and removal from the U.S.

Numbers up since 2021

"Criminal violations may also result in criminal prosecution."

The U.S. border service tracks the number of people arrested or seen making an unauthorized crossing between Maine and New Brunswick and Quebec, but there are no New Brunswick-specific statistics.

In 2021, the agents patrolling the Maine border saw 57 people crossing illegally from the two provinces. In 2022, those numbers went up to 303. There have been 51 people seen in the 2023 fiscal year, which began in October, the U.S. agency said.