Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Don't Ask Don't Tell campaign is working on making sure police services are accessible to everyone regardless of someone's immigration status. While the police made headway on this issue last February (2006), progress has stalled. The policy is weak and implementation has been delayed. Now the policy's expected review this month has been put off - with no indication of when it will back on the agenda for the Toronto Police Services Board

This public letter expresses our concern about this. I hope you and your organization will consider signing on to it.

To sign on, please email nooneisillegal@riseup.net

Both organizations and individuals can sign. If signing as an individual, please indicate where you work if that's applicable or any other relevant qualification.

Please sign THIS WEEK if at all possible. And please forward!

If you have any questions, please feel free to call 416.893.4053

Sima Sahar Zerehi

We Need Safe, Equal Access to Police Services - TODAY

A Public Letter to the Toronto Police Services Board and Chief Bill Blair

February 16th 2007

Police services remain unsafe and inaccessible to many people in Toronto. For people without immigration status or who are unsure of their status, going to the police for help is often not an option. If they do go to the police, they may end up being reported to immigration – and not infrequently detained or deported.

Spring 2006: A teenage girl reported a sexual assault. Soon her whole family was detained and facing deportation, even before the accused was brought to justice.

Fall 2006: A case of child abuse went unreported because the witness was afraid the child’s parents – who were not the abusers – would be turned over to immigration.

Everyone in Canada has the right to police protection. Lack of access to police services makes all of us less safe. It hurts victims of crime, including many women who are afraid to report domestic violence and sexual assaults. It prevents crimes from being properly investigated and prosecuted. And it hurts the whole community when crimes in our neighbourhoods go unreported because witnesses are afraid to come forward.

On February 15th 2006, the Toronto Police Services Board took an important first step towards making police services accessible to everyone, regardless of immigration status. The Board passed a policy “directing that the Chief of Police develop procedures to ensure that victims and witnesses of crime shall not be asked their immigration status, unless there are bona fide reasons to do so.”

The Board also decided to review the new policy in a year, ordering that “the Chief of Police provide a report to the Board in February 2007 on the steps that he has taken to implement the policy, and that the Board conduct a review of the policy at that time."

It is now February 2007. That year has passed. And the results are discouraging:

· The “don’t ask” policy has not been implemented. Community groups find no change in the way police treat immigrant victims and witnesses. Interviews at community legal clinics and at the Toronto immigration detention centre confirm that many people are still being directly asked about their status. Chief Blair has yet to provide any details on how – and if – he has put this policy into operating procedures.

· Without a “don’t tell” component, the policy is too weak. Police frequently find out about someone’s immigration status without asking. Abusive partners often tell the police themselves, “outing” the victim’s status. Or police might find out by checking the person’s ID. Access to police services will not be safe and will not be universal without a much stronger policy – a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

What is more, Chief of Police Bill Blair has failed to report back on the policy this month despite clear directions from the Board to do so. As concerned community members, we were expecting the Board to address this issue at its meeting on February 16th 2007. Instead, we were told the issue is “not on the agenda”.

Community and individual safety is being compromised while we wait for the Toronto Police Service and its Board to act.

This issue was not resolved in February 2006. There is a long way to go before everyone has safe, equal access to police services – regardless of immigration status.

As a country of immigrants, we need to do better. Fully 49% of Torontonians were born outside the country. A large number of residents have insecure forms of status, are unsure what their status is, or their status has expired. We need to make that no matter what someone’s immigration status is, they can go to the police – without fear – to report crimes committed against them or against someone else.

We call on Chief of Police Bill Blair, and the Toronto Police Services Board, to:

  1. Implement last year’s “don’t ask” policy TODAY – Stop asking victims and witnesses of crime about their immigration status.

  1. Pass and implement a stronger policy that will truly ensure safe, equitable access without fear. The policy needs to be strengthened in 2 key ways if it is to be effective at all:

    1. The “bona fide reasons” clause must be removed, or clearly and narrowly defined. Otherwise the policy is so vague that no one can rely on it.

    1. Add a “don’t tell” component. Police officers should not report individuals to immigration unless it is necessary to do so as part of a criminal investigation. Without a “don’t tell” policy, many people who turn to police will still be turned over to immigration.