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Friday FTW: Toronto to be Canada’s first “Sanctuary City”

Catherine McIntyre


The Toronto City council passed Access Without Fear yesterday, a motion that gives basic rights to people without full immigration status. This makes Toronto the first sanctuary city in Canada, joining 31 American cities that have laws protecting non-documented immigrants.

The motion affects about 400,000 migrant people living in Toronto who can’t depend on services like health care, food banks, women’s shelters, or public education for their children. These are people who pay property and sales taxes that help fund the services they can’t freely access. Often, non-status migrants avoid accessing these services for fear of getting denied, and worse—detained or deported.

Although most councillors supported the motion (38-2), Denzil Minnan-Wong lashed out against Access Without Fear, with comments like, “They should be removed, we should not encourage them, we should not help them, we should not facilitate them.” Minnan-Wong, whose father was an immigrant from China, went on to say “They are an insult to every immigrant who played by the rules to get into this country.”

Lest we forget, Canada as we know was conceived from undocumented migrants.

Other councillors (and live tweet-ers) shot back against Minnan-Wong, with Councillor Gord Perks calling the statements heinous and ugly, and Councillor Paula Fletcher saying the language had “a racist edge”.

A wave of rejoicing tweets flooded the hashtag #AccessWithoutFear. But (yes, it’s Friday and yes, this is definitely a win), keep in mind that nothing has actually changed yet. Passing the motion is just the start.

The Solidarity City Network, the advocacy group that put forth motion CD 18.5, reminded us of that with this statement:

You called, wrote, met, and pressured your Councillors and they were forced to listen. The first step is complete, and we have a new mission for you. We need you to go out and make sure that Toronto services are now actually accessible. Sign up here and we will get in touch with you on exactly how. There is a lot of work still to be done, and together we will make it happen.

City Hall instructed Chris Brillinger, executive director, social development, finance and administration to put together a report on how to improve access to services without fear including training, a complaints protocol, and a communications blitz by September 2013. That means we need to spend the next six months ensuring the right recommendations get on this report and that these recommendations actually pass at City Hall after that.

Syed Hussan, an organizer for the Solidarity City Network and an undocumented immigrant said it best by simply tweeting, “Tonight we celebrate this win. Tomorrow we struggle anew.”


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