Posted with permission from Toronto Star
Hamilton declared itself a “sanctuary city” on Wednesday, becoming only the second city in Canada to do so, after Toronto passed a similar motion last year.
The idea is that a “sanctuary city” takes deliberate steps to make municipal services accessible to all residents, regardless of immigration status. Proponents argue this makes for a better, safer community for all by encouraging vulnerable people to get help (for example, calling the police or using a shelter), without fear of being turned over to border enforcement officers for detention and deportation.
“I’m ecstatic,” said Maria Antelo, a coalition member of Sanctuary City Hamilton. “I think we are working towards a more welcoming community to people that are very, very vulnerable.”
But almost a year after Toronto’s historic vote, questions remain as to how exactly a “sanctuary city” operates, especially when municipal programs rub up against provincial law.
Syed Hussan of No One Is Illegal Toronto said provincially funded services that are administered locally are still inaccessible to undocumented people, including community housing, health care, social assistance, post-secondary education and so on.
“We’re hoping (Hamilton’s motion) will give momentum to other cities in Ontario, and especially put pressure on the province,” he said.
Controversy over Toronto’s sanctuary status erupted last month when the city refused to pay for the funeral of an undocumented immigrant.
Rogerio Marques De Souza lived illegally in Canada for 27 years before he died of colon cancer. De Souza’s children told the Star in January that the city refused to provide a low-income funeral subsidy on the basis of Ontario’s social assistance laws. Although a private organization eventually covered the costs, Hussan said De Souza’s case is an example of how much ground still needs to be covered.
The report found that “while the majority of staff at city funded agencies wished to provide services to non-status residents, they were not doing so due to inadequate training and confusion.” About 25 per cent of surveyed staff said non-status residents could not receive services, or were unsure about the rules.
Councillor Minnan-Wong was one of three councillors to vote against Toronto becoming a sanctuary city, and said that while Hamilton joining the ranks is “soft-hearted” it’s also “soft-headed.”
“Giving sanctuary to illegal immigrants is an insult to everyone who is waiting to enter this country legally,” he told the Star Wednesday. “It sends a message to the world that it is okay to break the law to come to Canada, and now you can get away with it.”
The city is expected to respond to Solidarity City’s report next month.
With files from Nicholas Keung