Police to cease calls checking on residency status, but advocates call for more action

Later this month, Montreal police will no longer be permitted to call border agents to check on a suspect's immigration status, but advocates say the change in policy doesn't go far enough to protect rights.

Last year, SPVM officers called border agents almost 10 times a day to check on someone's legal status, an action that even the police force said it should not be doing.

“We've been clear as an administration that, for us, systemic racism and systemic discrimination exists at the city and within the SPVM,” said Rosannie Filato, the City of Montreal executive committee member responsible for public safety. “I think we need to take concrete actions to combat these issues.”

Montreal is home to tens of thousands of asylum seekers, many of whom crossed into the country at Roxham Rd. The issue of their status has become even more prominent during the COVID-19 pandemic, as many migrants have worked on the front lines in the province's hospitals and CHSLDs.

After a series of protests, the federal government granted a one-time exception to grant permanent residency to some of those workers. But that plan still omitted thousands who worked in front line jobs, such as janitors.

Graham Latham of Solidarity Across Borders said some of those who were left out are among those whose status has been checked by police.

“Why wouldn't we think this is racial profiling?” he said. “We can't really imagine a situation where an SPVM officer needs to check up on the status of someone for any kind of routine stop.”

Under the new policy, police are able to check if someone has a warrant out for them. But Latham said more needs to be done.

“Responding to the huge social movement that is growing right now with something like this, it honestly feels insulting,” he said.

A city spokesperson said other initiatives are in the works, such as an identification card for all Montrealers, similar to those given out in New York City, that asylum seekers could show police. 

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