MONTREAL — The bodies of eight people — among them at least one young child — were found on Thursday in the St. Lawrence River in Quebec, the police said on Friday, a deadly ending to what the authorities called an illegal migrant crossing from Canada to the United States.
Divers were still searching for more bodies, said Abram Benedict, the Grand Chief for the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, the Indigenous territory in Quebec where the episode occurred, though the authorities did not provide a specific number.
There were heavy winds on Wednesday night along the river when it was believed the migrants tried to cross, and that likely played a role in their deaths, Chief Benedict said.
An abandoned boat was discovered near where the bodies were found that belonged to a resident of the Indigenous reserve, Casey Oakes, 30, the police said, adding that the authorities were searching for Mr. Oakes.
It was unclear whether he had any connection to the deaths.
Some of the migrants, among them a child under 3, were members of two families, one Romanian and the other Indian nationals, Chief Benedict said.
The police found a Canadian passport belonging to a missing child who was traveling with the Romanian family. Autopsies would be conducted to determine the causes of the deaths, the authorities said.
“This shows that people are desperate and that Canada and the United States need to do more to review the immigration processes in place,” he said. “It is sad that people want to find a better life and this is the tragedy that results.”
News of the deaths, which reverberated across the country, comes as Canada and the United States have been grappling with finding ways to curb a surge of migrants seeking asylum arriving to both countries.
While the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada has in the past sought to portray a humanitarian approach to refugees, it has shown limits amid concerns that a spike in undocumented migration is straining the immigration system.
“This is a heartbreaking situation, particularly given the young child that was among them,” Mr. Trudeau said on Friday. “We need to understand properly what happened, how it happened and do whatever we can to minimize the chances of it happening again.”
Canada and the United States have sought to tighten controls at their borders. President Biden and Mr. Trudeau, during a meeting in Canada this month, announced a migration agreement that closed an unofficial border crossing between the United States and Canada that has seen a wave of migrants in recent months.
Under the deal, Canada would be able to immediately return all migrants crossing illegally at the Canadian border, including the most popular illegal crossing, Roxham Road, between New York State and Quebec.
Migrants seeking to reach the United States have also traveled to Canada to attempt illegal crossings.
Since January, there had been incidents involving 80 people crossing through Mohawk lands, most of them trying to reach the United States, according to Chief Shawn Dulude of the Akwesasne Mohawk Police Service.
On Wednesday night, the police received calls from people reporting hearing shouting near the area where the dead migrants were found, Chief Dulude said.
Younger people living in Mohawk territory were vulnerable to being exploited by people-smugglers seeking them out because of their knowledge of the territory and its waterways, Chief Dulude said.