Sanctuary Cities

Written by: Kayley MacGregor

What is a Sanctuary City?

Declaring a city a ‘Sanctuary City’ is both a symbolic and practical action. Symbolically, it means that the City wants all who reside within it, regardless of citizenship, to be able to feel they are a part of the community. On a practical side, it allows people to access City services (transit, libraries, recreation centres, public health, emergency shelters, food banks, etc.) without having to prove their citizenship, a move called the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. However, these services do not extend to health care, affordable housing, or other provincial services, only municipal services. Much of the push for cities has resulted from events such as the migration crisis in Europe, the current immigration ban on select countries under Trump’s presidency, and the recent shooting at a Mosque in Quebec.

The Tale of Canadian Cities:

Here are some Canadian cities that have declared themselves Sanctuary Cities so far*

Toronto Montreal Vancouver Hamilton London
When? 2013, the first in Canada February 2017 2016 February 2014 January 2017
Success? Reports on their success said they never fully committed. Lack of training for city employees on how to deal with non-citizens accessing services was a big issue. “Don’t ask, don’t tell applied very unevenly Too soon to tell, working on drafting the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for the police force. 2015 transit police adopted the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Some say it has fulfilled its purpose, others say it has done very little, as a lot of the issues are federal/provincial, but as a positive note the police are onboard with the “don’t ask, don’t tell policy” Beginning the policy-drafting phase

* Regina, Ottawa, Saskatoon & Winnipeg looking into it

Does it Work?

There are concerns that it creates a “false sense of security”, where undocumented people are no less vulnerable to being deported than before. Some police forces have not been cooperative in following the “don’t ask, don’t tell policy”, meaning that when they interact with undocumented persons, they collect information that they then share with the CBSA (Canadian Border Services Agency). Undocumented peoples as a result may be more vulnerable to crime, as they are unlikely to report a crime if they are risking being deported. By law, if law enforcement is made aware that someone is an undocumented citizen, they are required to report it, which is why having a functioning “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is important for a Sanctuary City to actually be safe.

There are also concerns that by declaring a city a Sanctuary City, cities are allowing people who are not contributing citizens to social services, to use them, and that it is unfair for the rest of the population. There are also concerns that it will become a haven for criminals who have entered Canada illegally, who may choose a Sanctuary City to reside in as they may be less likely to get caught.

What’s Going on in London?

Following the tragic shooting at a Mosque in Quebec, Ward 13 Councillor Tanya Park motioned for London to become a Sanctuary City. The motion also directed the City to work with the City’s diversity committee to gather recommendations for becoming a Sanctuary City, and to assure the Federal Government of London’s continued commitment to accept refugees from the seven countries under Trump’s current immigration ban. This motion passed unanimously in Council. 


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