OPINION: Toronto needs to back up its sanctuary city designation

by | Oct 7, 2017 | City News, Opinion

Matt Owczarz
Life Editor

Toronto is a sanctuary city.

But that doesn’t mean enough is being done for undocumented residents. A city has to be able to back up that title by providing adequate aid to asylum seekers while eliminating their risk of deportation.

Toronto became the first city in Canada to be a safe haven for undocumented immigrants by declaring itself a sanctuary city in 2013, a designation later adopted by Hamilton, Vancouver, London and Montreal.

The sanctuary city declaration means a city will provide services to people regardless of their immigration status and without reporting them to federal authorities, removing the risk of detainment and deportation.

The declaration was a nice public gesture, but a recent report from criminologists at Ryerson University said city hall has never dedicated adequate leadership, planning or funds to back up its commitment on turning Toronto into a sanctuary city.

The report goes on to say that staff members across multiple departments are mostly unaware of the sanctuary city initiative, including the policy that allows residents to use services without providing citizenship or immigration documents.

This means municipal staff have regularly refused services to people because of their status when they were instead required to offer them.

The Ryerson report adds “non-status migrants have not been able to consistently access municipal services, and continue to hold well-founded fear of local authorities, including police.”

“Municipal staff have regularly refused services to people because of their status when they were instead required to offer them.”

Another prevalent issue present is Toronto police contacting Canadian border officials to check immigration statuses, which is a violation of the very same sanctuary city initiative.

According to the study – Often Asking, Always Telling – released in 2015, Toronto police made more than 3,000 calls to the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). A further 83.35 per cent of the calls were made by authorities for “status checks,” a term that is used by the CBSA to classify any calls made for verifying the status of an individual.

Tensions have been on the rise since Donald Trump took the White House and cracked down on refugees and foreigners from entering the
United States. With recent executive orders, Trump’s crusade has challenged U.S. sanctuary cities to uphold federal laws, implemented an updated travel ban blocking entry for people from seven countries: Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Chad and North Korea – and, of course, proposed to limit the number of refugees entering the U.S. in the next fiscal year to 45,000.

If the Trump administration continues to use this “Us versus Them” mentality, it will potentially alienate the rest of the world.

As conditions will most likely continue to become more complicated for people seeking refuge in the U.S. under the current political climate, Canada, and more specifically, Toronto can expect a large influx of the undocumented population arriving over the borders.

However, with the state the sanctuary initiative is in, Toronto is not in any position to help these people let alone even handle the situation.

Toronto will have to educate its staff and police sooner rather than later in order to prepare for this inevitable outcome. Until then, Toronto remains a sanctuary city in name only with nothing to back it up.