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Toronto family found dead in river felt they had no other option but to flee Canada, lawyer says


A young Toronto father facing deportation to Romania “felt he’d run out of options” and “must have been very desperate” when he made the fatal decision to flee with his wife and two young children to the United States on the frigid St. Lawrence River, says his lawyer.

On Tuesday afternoon, immigration lawyer Peter Ivanyi told CTV News Toronto that his clients, Florin and Monalisa Iordache, were scheduled to report to Pearson International Airport on March 29 for removal from the country.

Ivanyi said Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) had purchased plane tickets for the two Romanian nationals and their two children – two-year-old daughter, Evelyn, and one-and-a-half year-old son, Eylen – but the family never showed up for their flight.

It should be noted that Evelyn and Eylen, who were both born in Canada and are Canadian citizens, were not part of the deportation order. Ivanyi, who said that he was unaware of his clients’ plans, said he believes the tickets for the children were bought to “make sure the parents were deported.”

Ivanyi said he’d been assisting Florin and Monalisa since 2018 with their immigration process and an appeal at the federal court had been filed last month against the couple’s most recent rejection to stay in Canada.

The family’s immigration lawyer explained that IRCC had recently rejected his clients’ pre-removal risk assessment, a request to suspend their deportation to attend one of their children's upcoming appointment with a neurologist at the Hospital for Sick Children.

“And so, when immigration said ‘no, you have to get on that airplane on March 29,’ I'm sure this was front and centre of (Florin’s) mind, saying ‘I can't, I got to go someplace where at least I can temporarily get my kids what they need’ and he didn't believe that he can get proper medical care for himself, let alone his children in Romania,” Ivanyi said.

“And he would be right. He wouldn't have been able to.”

Ivanyi went on to say that being sent back to Romania, a place where the Iordaches would have been discriminated against for their ethnicity, treated poorly, and not had the comforts of life they’d come to know in Canada, became a real possibility.

“And so I think (Florin) felt that for the sake and best interests of his kids, two Canadian kids, he was left with no other option, but I can tell you that he'd exhausted pretty much every option in Canada to remain,” he said, adding Florin seemed to be worn down with a very heavy weight on his shoulders.

Ivanyi said the young father never spoke about himself. His only concern was the needs of his two young children.

Eylen Iordache, left, along with his sister Evelyn, and father Florin drowned in the St. Lawrence River late last week after attempting to cross illegally into the U.S. The children's mother Monalisa, not pictured, also perished in the frigid water. (Florin Iordache Facebook photos)

Last Friday afternoon, Ivanyi said he got an inkling that something might have happened to the family when a member of the Roma community contacted him to let him know they believed his clients were among the eight migrants who had drowned crossing the border illegally at Akwesasne Mohawk Nation, which is roughly 130 kilometres southwest of Montreal.

Police confirmed this over the weekend. They said Florin was found with two Canadian passports in his possession: one for a two-year-old child and another for a one-year-old infant.

Police in India told The Canadian Press that the four members of a family from Gujarat province – 50-year-old Praveenbhai Chaudhari; his wife Dakshaben, 45; son Meet, 20; and 23-year-old daughter, Vidhi – were also pulled from the river while trying to enter the U.S. illegally at Akwasasne.

The Chaudharis had been travelling in Canada on a tourist visa for the last two months, Achal Tyagi, superintendent of police for the city of Mehsana, said. It is not known where they had been staying in Canada.

The two families died less than a week after Canada and the United States amended the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA), which prevents people in either country from crossing the border and making a refugee claim.

Migrant Workers Alliance for Change held a protest Tuesday outside the North York office of Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino in response to the eight migrants’ deaths.

On Tuesday afternoon, Migrant Workers Alliance for Change (MWAC) held a protest outside the North York office of Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino in response to the eight migrants’ deaths.

During the rally, organizers delivered a petition that calls for an end to STCA, which came into effect in December 2004 to better manage the flow of refugee claimants at the shared land border, but was recently modified following a notable influx of asylum seekers.

Protesters also called for permanent resident status for all migrants.

"We've been saying for years this agreement kills people,” Syed Hussan, MWAC’s executive director, said during the rally.

"Today we delivered the voices of 7,000 people. We put up the photos of people who died so the government can see the impact of their decisions."

One of the speakers, David Copzaru, is also a Roma refugee from Romania.

"I was shocked and my heart was screaming because we came here to be protected," he told the crowd.

“We are not treated as humans in Romania and across Europe because our colour and because our language. And because we are Roma, we are gypsy, we are not accepted as a human beings."

The Office of the Minister of Public Safety, in a statement provided to CTV News Toronto late Tuesday afternoon, called the news of the migrant deaths at Akwasasne “heartbreaking.”

“At this incredibly difficult time, our thoughts are with the loved ones of those lost,” spokesperson Alexander Cohen wrote.

“The Akwesasne Mohawk Police, assisted by the Canadian Coast Guard and Sûreté du Québec, are conducting an investigation. As the investigation is ongoing, it’s important not to make assumptions on a difficult and complex situation until all the facts are known.”

Cohen went on to say that Canada is a “global leader in refugee resettlement, and consistently ranks among the top countries in the world for welcoming refugees” and has made a recent commitment to welcome 15,000 migrants from the Americas “while bolstering safe, regular pathways as an alternative to irregular migration.”

“It’s important to remember that these tragic stories do not start at the Canada-U.S. border. Irregular migration presents immense dangers, from the moment someone leaves their home country and all throughout their journey. These risks are compounded by human smugglers, who take advantage of vulnerable people,” he said.

“Our government will continue to promote safe, legal and regular pathways that allow the world’s most vulnerable to build new lives in Canada."

Florin and Monalisa Iordache are seen in this undated photograph provided to CTV News.

In a statement provided also to CTV News Toronto, IRCC said it is “incredibly saddened by the recent deaths near Cornwall Island.”

“Our condolences go out to the families of the deceased. Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada will continue working with partners and is monitoring the situation very closely,” wrote Spokesperson Stuart Isherwood.

“Due to privacy legislation, we cannot comment on specific cases.”

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Romania, through the Embassy of Romania in Canada and the Consulate General in Montreal, said it is “following closely the incident which resulted in the death of several individuals in Akwesasne, near the border between the United States and Canada.”

“According to the latest data provided by the Embassy and the Consulate, the Canadian authorities have not confirmed yet the citizenship of some of the victims, only mentioning their names and the fact that the two deceased children had Canadian citizenship, as their Canadian passports were found with the father. The investigation is ongoing,” they wrote in an email to

“The Embassy of Romania to Canada and the Consulate General in Montreal continue the dialogue with the local competent authorities and stand ready to provide consular assistance, according to their competencies.”

Ivanyi, meanwhile, said the sadness he initially felt about the loss of his clients has now turned to anger that their deportation was actually ordered.

Nonetheless, he said he’s glad that that the immigration challenges families go through are being talked about.

“It’s not necessarily just this family, but the process of, oh, somebody would be willing to cross a border illegally. They must have a reason to do so. That's not talked about,” he said, adding the focus is often on how people fail to obey immigration laws, instead of the motivations they have for their family’s safety and security.

“So I'm glad that people are showing respect for Florin and his family, for the kids. I'm sure the family will come to appreciate it at some point.”

Ivanyi said it’s his hope that in the long run telling the Iordaches’ story will “bring about some positive change, as opposed to the negative change that we've seen most recently, with you know, Trudeau’s decisions, so I hope something good comes out of this.”

Akwesasne Mohawk Police Services are currently searching for 30-year-old Casey Oakes, of Akwesasne, who is wanted in connection with this case. Investigators said Oakes’ boat was located near the spot where the bodies of the eight migrants were pulled from the river.

With files from The Canadian Press and CTV News Toronto’s Allison Hurst. Top Stories

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