By TOM GODFREY
Some community members are breathing easier as a long-awaited City of Toronto Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell initiative seems to be getting closer to becoming a policy for our police service.
The policy of not asking residents about their immigration status is a controversial one that has been debated for more than 10 years by the police, city and community leaders.
It was adopted by the City in 2013 and bans all its agencies, boards and commissions from asking clients about their immigration status in Canada. All the bodies have adopted the policy except for the Toronto Police Service (TPS).
City staff said the move will ensure Toronto’s estimated 200,000 non-status residents can access its services without fear of being turned over to border enforcement officers for detention and deportation.
The DADT policy, as it is called, was criticized by Chief Bill Blair in 2008 because it banned his officers from sharing information with federal immigration officials.
A police board disbanded the committee studying the issue after Blair said officers simply cannot turn a blind eye to potential infractions of immigration and refugee legislation.
But, that didn’t stop immigrant aid groups and advocates from demanding changes.
The groups claimed some parents were keeping their children out of schools and that women didn’t want to go to shelters for their safety fearing their information will be shared with police.
As it is now, Toronto cops are not permitted to ask for immigration information from the victims of crime, domestic or family abuse or even witnesses.
The issue resurfaced again last week as a report on undocumented residents prepared by Blair was submitted to the Board at its meeting, one of the last for the Chief.
The report will be studied by the Board, whose members are expected to adopt its use by the service.
I must have covered over time more than a dozen protests by human rights, immigrant and refugee groups demanding that TPS adopt the DADT policy that was endorsed by City Council.
The submitted “Service Governance pertaining to the Access to Police Services for Undocumented Torontonians” report as it is called, pretty well states that Toronto Police will not ask those they come in contact with about immigration issues, unless it is really important or relating to national security.
The report resulted from meetings in June last year in which City Council directed the TPS to comply with the City’s Access without Fear directives, as recommended by the Solidarity City Network (SCN).
The directives were contained in a SCN report, “Towards a Sanctuary City,” that recommended city-funded agencies not share info with federal immigration authorities, among other requests.
The directives have also lead to cultural sensitivity training for some officers and regular consultations with the community.
The report was signed off by Blair, who is being hailed on his way out as a Chief who has helped and been friendly to members of our ethnic communities.
Blair’s report states “police services should be available to all members of the community and that any person, whether resident of or visitor to Toronto, may request police response or services without being asked about their immigration status.
“Additionally, police officers are trained not to ask victims and witnesses of crime for their immigration status, unless there are bona fide reasons to do so,” the report states.
It stressed that “police officers do not share personal information about persons without status unless compelled to do so by law”.
It is about time the TPS joined other agencies in banning queries on the status of newcomers. If this policy can help one family, or permit one woman to visit a shelter for help, then it is well worth it as City Council wisely decided exactly two years ago.