Canada’s second most populous city has voted to declare itself a “sanctuary city” for undocumented immigrants, allowing authorities to provide council services such as housing and food banks to people without legal immigration status.
Montreal, the largest city in Quebec, joins three cities in Ontario – Toronto, London and Hamilton – in adopting a “sanctuary city” status to help protect undocumented immigrants.
Mayor Denis Coderre, a former immigration minister in Canada’s government who put forward the motion, said he wants to give undocumented immigrants better access to health care, housing and integration, CTVNews reported.
Speaking ahead of the motion on Monday, he said: “You have a lot of these people who are victims. They have been victims of terrorist acts. They have been kicked out of their country or went out because of their situation, sexual orientation, [and as] political refugees.
“I think we should straighten up that situation and find a way to address the undocumented,” he said.
At the Quebec boarder, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) has converted an unused basement into a refugee claimant processing centre, as authorities attempt to process the growing number of asylum seekers crossing into the country from the United States. The CBSA said the number of people making refugee claims at Quebec border crossing has more than doubled from 2015 to 2016. Last month, 452 people made claims in Quebec compared with 137 in January 2016, the agency said.
Many “sanctuary cities” in the US protect undocumented immigrants by limiting how much local police and local authorities can work with federal immigration services to allow people to be reported and deported.
This kind of protection has not been explicitly offered by the city of Montreal, but Mr Coderre has promised the city’s public security committee will examine how migrants are dealt with by police and transit officials.
But migration rights groups have argued the new status of Montreal is largely symbolic and does not go far enough to protect undocumented immigrants.
Jaggi Singh, a spokesperson for Solidarity Across Borders, told The Toronto Star that “in many ways, having a symbolic motion can be worse than having no motion at all”.
“What it does is creates a false sense of security and false sense of protection and the moment where the police are deporting people, you destroy any sense of trust,” he said.
The same criticism has been made of city of Vancouver, which has not adopted a “sanctuary city” status but last year passed an Access to City Services without Fear policy, which means undocumented immigrants seeking help and services from the city will not have their immigration status made known to authorities unless it is legally required, the Vancouver Sun reported.
Additional reporting by Reuters