Vancouver police draft guidelines for interacting with undocumented migrants

posted on July 17, 2018

By Vancouver Sun |

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.

The police department says it has been in discussions with the City of Vancouver about the issue since 2014 and council requested the police board consider adopting policy in 2016 after the city passed an access without fear 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.

It says 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.

But the advocacy group Sanctuary Health says 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 when they feel it’s appropriate.

“Migrants are telling each other, ‘If you want to stay in this country, don’t talk to VPD,’ ” says Omar Chu of Sanctuary Health in a statement. “There is nothing in these guidelines that would change this message.”

The police department says in a release that 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 adds.

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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