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Board rejects `don't tell' policy

Fri Nov 21 2008
Robyn Doolittle
Staff Reporter

The Toronto Police Services Board has voted to reject a controversial "don't ask, don't tell" policy for victims and witnesses of crime who are not legally in the country. It's a move that social advocates say is endangering women's lives.

"These matters are never easy and (decisions) cannot be made lightly," board chair Alok Mukherjee said in introducing his recommendation to keep the current policy.

In May 2006, the board approved the Victims and Witnesses Without Legal Status Policy, or "don't ask" as it has come to be known. This was designed to ensure that undocumented individuals were able to contact police, without fear of deportation, while at the same time not putting officers in legal grey area of not reporting a potential crime.

The problem with this, says Kristin Marshall, who works with the Parkdale Community Legal Services, is that it absolutely doesn't work. "It doesn't work because there are other ways that a person's lack of status can come out. What do the police do if they're told? That's a frequent threat of abusers," she said outside the meeting.

Moreover, Marshall and others argued that there is no legal grey area; that a police officer has no duty to report immigration status.

Moments after the board made its decision, immigration consultant Macdonald Scott said "we will be back" as he and others stormed out of the auditorium.

"The implications of this are huge," he said afterwards. "You're going to see more women, who are without status afraid to call police if they're in abusive situations ... fearing they'll be deported and you're going to see abusive husbands using it to their advantage."

Scott says his law firm, Carranza Barristers and Solicitors, frequently deals with women who have been "outed" by abusive spouses and are facing deportation.

In reading his recommendations, Mukherjee said he believes the current policy "is in a good position to ensure that everybody who lives here, victims of crime, victims and witnesses who are not legal status, are able to interact with the police."

The board first began examining the policy of a "don't tell" component in August 2005 and established a working committee to analyze the legalities and feasibility of such a policy.

After three years of lengthy legal arguments and a final desperate plea yesterday put forward by half a dozen community groups, including the Law Union of Ontario and Canadian Auto Workers union Mukherjee said he and Chief Bill Blair remained unconvinced that police are not legally required to report immigration offences.

http://www.thestar.com/article/540891