By Allison Hanes, National Post
Police Chief Bill Blair today convinced the Toronto Police Services Board to kill a proposal that would have prohibited his officers from telling federal authorities if they suspect immigration law violations.
Toronto Police already have a ‘‘don’t ask’’ policy on immigration status in family abuse cases, and immigrant advocates had hoped to add a ‘‘don’t tell’’ component.
But the police board yesterday disbanded the committee studying the issue, burying activists’ hopes, after Chief Blair (pictured above) said officers simply cannot turn a blind eye to potential infractions of the immigration and refugee act.
“We have to act both morally and within the rule of law. We’ve gone I think as far as we can within Canadian law,” he said. “I can’t and I won’t issue an unlawful order. In fact you may be asking me to break the law.”
Board chair Alok Mukherjee said continuing the consultation would have been pointless in the face of Chief Blair’s insistence.
“The easiest thing is to carry on the consultation but we should not give people false expectations … if on this particular topic this is the best balance we can strike,” Mr. Mukherjee said.
Immigration advocates said Chief Blair’s view goes against the preponderance of opinion in the legal community – and he isn’t a lawyer.
Mohan Mishra from No One is Illegal complained that “with a sweep of the hand … today we’ve seen the board completely disregard the opinions of dozens and dozens of organizations.”
The activists said police should only be required to call in immigration authorities if a warrant has been issued for their apprehension.
Mac Scott, of the Law Union of Ontario, said the threat that other information could be passed along will further isolate and even jeopardize the lives of extremely vulnerable people who have done nothing wrong even if their immigration status hasn’t been settled.
Such persons include: those whose visas have expired; those who haven’t filed for refugee status yet or whose claims have failed and subject to appeal; those with pending cases that haven’t been settled yet; those who may have been lost track of by authorities.
“This kind of blatant racism cannot stand,” Mr. Scott said. “I’m talking about the women I’ve talked to who are afraid to go to shelters because they’re afraid of the police coming in to the shelters and picking them up.”
Anna Rosenbluth, from the Immigration Legal Committee, said rank-and-file police don’t have the expertise to distinguish when a breach of immigration laws has occurred. Realistically, Sima Zerehi, of Status Now, said the ranks of those without defined status in Canada will only continue to grow.
“If the police board is saying no to providing services to those communities we’re going to reach a point of crisis soon,” she said.