No Ask-No Tell Immigration Policy A Security Threat

No-Ask, No-Tell Immigration Policy a Security Threat
By COLIN PERKEL, Canadian Press
November 27, 2006

TORONTO (CP) – A groundbreaking new policy under which the country's largest city police service does not ask suspects about their immigration status will endanger the public, the Canada Border Services Agency says.

However, proponents of the “don't ask, don't tell” policy adopted by Toronto in February worry the public will be put at risk if the policy is scrapped even before it has a chance to take hold on the ground.

In a deputation slated for Tuesday before the police services board, John Gillan, regional director for the border agency, planned to make the case that the policy needs to be axed.

“The CBSA believes that the implementation of 'don't ask don't tell' will significantly compromise public safety and security,” Gillan said in a letter to the board this month.

The board adopted the policy amid ongoing police frustration in trying to get crime victims and witnesses to come forward and co-operate.

Toronto is the only city in Canada to adopt such an approach.

Citizen groups who advocated for the policy are anxious to see it maintained and fully implemented.

Without it, those who are not in the country legally will be placed in vulnerable circumstances, they say.

For example, they fear battered or abused women and others facing sexual exploitation or assault will stay away from police for fear of being deported.

Scrapping the policy will also jeopardize the safety of the community at large, said Sima Zerehi, spokeswoman for the group No One is Illegal Toronto.

“What we will have again is a lack of communication between immigrant communities and police services,” Zerehi said.

“We'll have a wall of silence which will mean that again and again, victims and witnesses of a crime will be unable to communicate their issues to the police services without fear of detention and deportation.”

Under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, police are not required to ask about an individual's immigration status.

Police can only arrest illegal immigrants it they have a warrant from federal officials.

Mark Pugash, a spokesman for Toronto police, said police do not routinely ask about immigration status.

“If it's not relevant to the investigation at hand, then it's not something that we would seek information on,” Pugash said.

Pugash said it was too early to tell whether the policy has had any impact.

In his letter, Gillan said he recognizes that in some cases, asking individuals their immigration status and reporting illegals to the federal agency “may be intrusive or intimidating or serve as an impediment to police investigations.”

However, because Toronto police play a vital role in helping the agency track illegal immigrants and ensure they are deported, not asking about immigration status puts the public at risk, Gillan wrote.

But Zerehi said most residents without status – as many as 80,000 in the Toronto-area alone – are hardworking, law-abiding members of the community who have simply been caught up in the immigration bureaucracy.

“The Toronto police should not be doing the work of federal immigration officers,” Zerehi said.

The board plans to revisit the policy in February 2007.

The Canadian Press, 2006

11/27/2006 16:46 EST