British Columbia

VPD's proposed 'access without fear' policy to encourage immigrants to report crime gets mixed reviews

The policy aims to reassure people with uncertain or no immigration status that they can access police services without fear they may be reported and ultimately detained, or deported.

Proposal aims to help victims and witnesses with uncertain immigrant status to report crime

The new VPD guidelines aim to encourage people with uncertain or no immigration status to call police in an emergency. (Jeff Chiu/Associated Press)

The Vancouver Police Department released a new policy Tuesday to help undocumented immigrants feel safe about reporting crimes — but some advocates have raised concerns about the proposal.

The "access without fear" policy directs officers to not ask for information about the immigration status of a witness, complainant or victim, unless there is a legitimate reason to do so.

The policy aims to reassure people with uncertain or no immigration status that they can access police services without fear they may be reported and ultimately detained, or deported.

"It's important for us to be clear and explicit about how and when we communicate with the Canada Border Services Agency," VPD Sgt. Jason Robillard said. 

Katie Rosenberger, executive director of the Affiliation of Multicultural Societies and Service Agencies of B.C., helped draft the guidelines and lauds the proposal.

"Someone with undocumented status does not feel safe picking up the phone and calling 911 because they don't who is going to come and what questions are going to be asked, " she said.

The proposed policy could encourage people to make the phone calls needed in emergencies and hopefully feel safer about doing so.

Bryon Cruz of Sanctuary Health says the group doesn't trust the VPD's promise to protect undocumented immigrants. (Wendy D Photography)

Advocate criticizes policy

The VPD has been in discussion with the City of Vancouver about the issue since 2014.

In 2016, an access without fear policy was adopted by the City of Vancouver and applied to services such as fire and rescue and community services such as homeless outreach shelters. Council asked the Vancouver Police Board to consider adopting their own.

However, an audit of the city's policy conducted by Sanctuary Health — which advocates for access to services for immigrants regardless of their status or documentation — was highly critical, claiming it was not adequately implemented and that some city staff have not been made aware of it. 

Sanctuary Health member Byron Cruz says he is hopeful the city will work with advocates to make the policy work better.

"We are in the process of meeting with the park board and it seems like they are interested in fixing this situation," Cruz said. 

However, Cruz is less confident in the VPD's access without fear proposal. 

"We are totally opposed to such a policy," Cruz said.

He is worried that many foreign workers, for example, with precarious employment — are afraid to call 911 to report a crime, even if they are victims of it. He points to examples of domestic violence where women have been too afraid to call police.

He also recalls one case where the VPD was called to a job site to investigate a case of missing tools, and the officers proceeded to ask everybody on the worksite for their immigration status.

Cruz says the police's access without fear policy would give immigrants a false sense of security in thinking they would never be asked about their status.

"It is better not to have a policy because the community knows what they are risking than having a policy that is misleading the community," he said. 

His group intends to stage a protest on Thursday, when the VPD will present its proposal to the Vancouver Police Board for approval. 

The VPD says it is working on how officers will be trained and will engage interested stakeholders in the process.

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