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Toronto declared ‘sanctuary city’ to non-status migrants
Date: 24/02/2013 - 11:23
Toronto has made history by affirming itself as a “sanctuary city,” the first Canadian city with a formal policy allowing undocumented migrants to access services regardless of immigration status.
On Thursday, City Council passed the motion by a vote of 37 to 3 that also requires training all city staff and managers to ensure Toronto’s estimated 200,000 non-status residents can access its services without fear of being turned over to border enforcement officers for detention and deportation.
The vote puts Toronto in the same league with 36 American cities, including Chicago, New York City and San Francisco that already have such policies. Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday and councillors Denzil Minnan-Wong and David Shiner are the only council members who voted against the motion.
“It is an enormous step for the city in the right direction. We are all contributing to the city, the well-being of Toronto. It’s important that we are not making a distinction between those who don’t have rights or access to services and those who do,” said Harald Bauder, associate professor of Ryerson University’s graduate program in immigration and settlement studies.
“Distinctions are divisive. They establish second-class citizens. That leads to all kinds of other problems, not just a rift in the community, but other issues of exploitation.”
Council’s vote was significant at a time when the undocumented population is expected to surge in 2015, when many legal but temporary foreign workers will see their four-year work permits expire under a new federal law and potentially move “underground.”
Proponents of the policy argued that the city must embrace and monitor the changing reality rather than just bury its head in the sand.
Although undocumented migrants — often visitors overstaying their visas or failed refugee claimants dodging deportation — have been able to use city services such as library and public transit without hassles, the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy has not been consistent in other areas.
“This is a historic moment because we are saying we are a sanctuary city and that anyone who is in the City of Toronto will be able to access all the services the city offers, be it in the areas of health, in the area of parks, in the area of library, in the area of health and safety,” said councilor Joe Mihevc.
“That is the kind of city we want. We want to open our arms to anyone who comes here while they are here.”
However, Mihevc pointed out the new city policy will not address barriers faced by non-status residents for services under the provincial or federal jurisdictions such as housing, income security, welfare and labour protection.
“With the police, their policy is, ‘don’t ask.’ But if they find that someone tells them, they actually have a legal obligation to report it to Immigration Canada. That’s the nuance with respect to the police. This doesn’t change that,” Mihevc explained.
Thursday’s motion was a second attempt by migrant advocacy groups to formalize the city’s sanctuary policy; the previous administration under mayor David Miller did not commit to affirming the policy but opted to simply put a poster online to promote it.
“This is a great show of what community organizations can do. But this is only a policy . . . The only way we’re going to get changes in our community is if our community is organized and standing strong, and we keep councillors to what they said today,” said Tzazna Miranda Leal of the Solidarity City Network, a community umbrella group behind the campaign.
However, councillor Minnan-Wong, a vocal critic of the motion, said undocumented people are illegal in Canada and do not deserve government services.
“We shouldn’t encourage them. We shouldn’t help them. We should not facilitate them. They are an insult to every immigrant who plays by the rule to get into the country. They are an insult to every immigrant who is waiting to enter this country legally,” said Minnan-Wong.
“It sends a message to the world that it is okay to break the law to come to Canada and it says that the City of Toronto is an accomplice to this lawbreaking.”
Council also voted to ask Ottawa to establish an amnesty program for undocumented migrants and the province to review its policies to ensure their access to health care, emergency services and community housing.
Sanctuary cities in U.S.
So far, 36 American cities and three states have declared themselves sanctuaries for non-status migrants.
Source: Toronto Star
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