Police in Toronto make far more checks with immigration authorities about whether people have proper residency or work documentation than their counterparts in other major Canadian cities, according to a new report by activist and legal groups.
Those checks can lead to indefinite detention or deportation to places where their lives could be in danger, the groups said Monday.
Government data, obtained by the groups under access to information laws, show 83 per cent of Toronto police calls to Canada Border Services Agency are based on "officer suspicion" and were made to perform a "status check." In fewer than one in 10 cases – about 7 per cent – those reported had outstanding immigration warrants.
Study co-author Karl Gardner, with No One Is Illegal, said the data suggest officers are racially profiling individuals and are choosing to contact the border agency without cause.
As a result, he said, police are creating a climate of fear among the estimated 200,000 undocumented migrants in the community.
"They're afraid to call the police in times of need, they're afraid to walk on the streets or take the subway because they fear being targeted by the police based on the colour of their skin," Gardner said in interview. "Police should not be doing the dirty work of CBSA."
Toronto police denied any racial profiling or proactive reporting to the border agency. However, they have long said they have a legal obligation to report illegal immigrants if they become aware of issues.
"Don't ask, don't tell was not an option for police. Don't ask was," police spokesman Mark Pugash said Monday. "Do we actively target? No we don't."
Government data show that officers in Toronto reported 3,278 people to immigration enforcement between Nov. 4, 2014 and June 28, 2015 – a rate of about 14 people each day. During the same period, police services in Montreal, Quebec City, Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver made a combined 2,729 calls.
The full study, which is to be released Wednesday, says police reports include crime victims and witnesses. Among such cases, Jared called Toronto police when he witnessed a shooting in his neighbourhood. Officers then contacted immigration enforcement, found out that he was undocumented, and arrested him.
"I spent 2 1/2 months in the Toronto immigration holding centre. I was on the verge of being deported," Jared is cited as saying. "I'll never ever ever ever go to the police again, even for the smallest thing."
Based on the report, the groups – including No One Is Illegal, the Law Union of Ontario, and Urban Alliance for Race Relations – accuse police of violating Toronto's "don't ask, don't tell" policy passed in February 2013.
The "sanctuary city" policy states that city-funded agencies should not ask for immigration status, and should not be reporting out to immigration enforcement, say the groups, who plan to call on city hall on Wednesday to ensure police adhere to the policy as well.
Gardner sidestepped questions about whether police, given current security concerns, should not be actively trying to ferret out illegal migrants, saying immigration law is administrative rather than criminal, and that it would be like patrolling the streets for tax cheats or failing to pay parking tickets.