Vancouver police release guidelines for interacting with undocumented immigrants

Vancouver police have released proposed guidelines for officers on interacting with undocumented immigrants, in an effort to ensure migrants can access police services without fear of deportation.

The guidelines direct officers not to ask about the immigration status of a witness, complainant or victim, and not to enlist the assistance of Canada Border Services Agency on these investigations unless there is a legitimate reason to do so.

Those reasons may include when Crown counsel requires the information for court, when the individual needs to go into witness protection, when the information is necessary to prove essential elements of an offence or to ensure public safety.

“We feel that this group may be reluctant to approach police because they fear their immigration status would be uncovered,” Sgt. Jason Robillard said in a statement.

“We want to make it clear to immigrants with uncertain or no status, who are victims, complainants or witnesses to crime, that the police are not interested in their immigration status. We want to help keep them safe.”

The police department said it has been in discussions with the City of Vancouver about the issue since 2014. After the city passed its own access without fear policy in 2016, council asked the police board to consider adopting a policy.

The department has consulted other stakeholders on the policy over the past two years and the police board will review the guidelines on Thursday.

Even in the absence of official guidelines, the enforcement of immigration offences has not been a priority, with immigration arrests accounting for 0.01 per cent of all calls for a police response from 2015 to 2017, the department said.

But the advocacy group Sanctuary Health said the guidelines pay lip service to the city’s policy without any operational change, noting that officers will still be able to contact the border services agency.

“Migrants are telling each other, ‘If you want to stay in this country, don’t talk to VPD,’ ” said Omar Chu of Sanctuary Health in a statement. “There is nothing in these guidelines that would change this message.”
The police department said in a release it has consistently stated that undocumented migrants who are victims of, or witnesses to, crime should not be fearful of coming to the police for help, as officers are primarily concerned with investigating the crime itself.

Officers will receive training on the new guidelines to ensure they understand the intent, how it may impact their day-to-day work, and who to contact if concerns arise, it added.

The Canada Border Services Agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the new guidelines.

The agency has processed 455 asylum claims in British Columbia so far this year, compared with 1,440 for all of last year. The vast majority of so-called irregular border crossings leading to asylum claims continue to take place in Quebec, which has seen almost 9,800 claims so far this year.

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