Saturday, March 24, 2007

Cops offer 'Don't Ask' policy

Illegal immigrants can now report crimes without fear of deportation
23 March 2007

The Toronto Police Services Board has given the green light to police Chief Bill Blair to begin implementing a new "Don't Ask" policy that will allow people without "legal status" to report crimes without fear of deportation.

And the dozens of proponents who were on hand at police headquarters to applaud the move yesterday say they are especially encouraged by the board's willingness to consider addressing their concerns, including the possible addition of a "Don't Tell" component to the policy.

"I feel very optimistic that this is a strong step towards making Toronto a truly safe and acceptable city for everyone when it comes to police services," an elated Sima Zerehi, of the Don't Ask Don't Tell Campaign, said after leaving the board meeting.

"And I'm also optimistic that through ongoing community consultations ... that we're going to be able to come up with a solution that addresses everyone's needs."

The Don't Tell policy, an issue that was first raised two years ago, prevents police officers from asking people about their citizenship status, unless there are "bona fide" reasons to do so.

It is intended to entice people without status who have been victims of or witnesses to a crime to come forward without worrying that they may be kicked out of the country.

Zerehi, who has worked in an immigrant detention centre, said she's seen how real that fear is among the city's immigrant community. She said up until now many women who have been victims of domestic violence would choose to remain silent rather than risk a worse fate back in their homeland.

Zerehi, who moved to Canada 15 years ago and became a citizen about a decade ago, also experienced that fear first-hand during the more than four years it took her family to come here from Iran. "I know what it's like to see someone in uniform and feel like you have to turn around and go the other way," she said. "People without status shouldn't be shaking in their boots every time they see a police officer."

Blair was asked by the police services board 13 months ago to prepare a report on how he would implement the Don't Ask policy. He told the board officer training in the policy could begin immediately.