Police Board Approves "Don’t Ask. Don’t Tell" (The Toronto Star)

February 16, 2006: Police Board Approves “Don't Ask. Don't Tell” (The Toronto Star)

Toronto Star
Police board approves `don't ask, don't tell'
Feb. 16, 2006. 01:00 AM

In an effort to break down a wall of silence between crime victims living illegally in Canada and police, the Toronto Police Service is adopting a “don't ask, don't tell” policy whereby officers investigating a crime won't ask victims and witnesses about their immigration status.

The concept was unanimously supported by the police services board yesterday after outreach workers and members argued in its favour.

It is now Chief Bill Blair's job to write the policy, “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 motion stated.

The move will help protect non-status residents who are in abusive relationships or witnesses to crime, said Andrea Gunraj, an outreach manager with the Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children.

“The fears that women and youth without status have when they consider accessing the police are significant,” she said. “They worry that if they call for help, they will be the ones who will end up getting punished when police officers ask about their status, that they might be detained for indeterminate periods away from their children and dependents, under the real threat of deportation.”

The board will also write to the federal immigration minister asking that deportation orders be stayed against witnesses in criminal cases until court proceedings have concluded.

“We know there are people whose status is unclear and are being victimized. We want to be sure that those people can come forward … so that we can bring people responsible for that violence to justice,” Blair said.

In October, first-degree murder charges against two men were withdrawn after the Crown's only eyewitness was deported despite pleas to immigration authorities to keep the witness in the country.

Although he welcomes the “don't ask” side of the policy, the “don't tell” component is more complicated. “Police officers have a statutory obligation … they shall report. I'm certainly not going to instruct my officers to break the law,” Blair said.

Asking about status may be necessary in some cases, so the policy will have to allow police to use discretion, he said.

That worries Gunraj, who said giving officers discretion “would effectively undermine the policy, so that women and youth still will not feel safe to call the police when they are being battered, raped, assaulted and molested.”