Should Ottawa become a Sanctuary City?
Residents meet to discuss Ottawa becoming a Sanctuary City at Knox Presbyterian Church, March 16, 2017
Published Thursday, March 16, 2017 11:48PM EDT
The push to make Ottawa a Sanctuary City gained momentum on Thursday.
A group called the Ottawa Sanctuary City Network held a public meeting at Knox Presbyterian United Church.
So just what is a Sanctuary City?
It is a largely-symbolic designation for a city that has adopted policies to ensure all residents have access to municipal services, regardless of their Canadian status. “Without fear that they will be asked about their immigration status and without fear of detention and deportation,” says Network co-founder Karen Cocq.
It’s an idea that has been adopted by dozens of cities in the U-S, and more recently 6 Canadian cities including Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.
Advocates say there are many reasons why residents might have precarious status, and fear of their situation might prevent them from accessing much-needed municipal services like 9-1-1 or local women’s shelters.
Not everyone agrees with the idea. Some feel Ottawa is already a welcoming city, and the designation is unnecessarily symbolic and political. "We've just welcomed recently more than 2,000 refugees from Syria here in Ottawa,” says Ottawa Councillor Michael Qaqish, who is also the refugee liaison for the city. “The city has been very proactive in those efforts and welcoming. And we've allocated resources and time and facilities to insure the successful integration of those refugees. And I think actions speak much louder than words."
But advocates want the city to go further, including adopting a policy they refer to as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” It would instruct officials, including police, to not ask about a person’s immigration status. If that status is discovered anyway, it would prevent the sharing of that information with other levels of government, including the Canadian Border Services Agency, unless absolutely required by law. “There is no need for municipal police to be collaborating with the CBSA,” says Cocq.
It is an idea City Hall will have to grapple with sooner than later. The issue of making Ottawa a Sanctuary City is slated to go before the Community and Protective Services Committee March 30th.