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How Sanctuary City Came to Be

Constant Organizing, Perfect Timing Lead to Groundbreaking Motion

by Gwalgen Geordie Dent

How Sanctuary City Came to Be

TORONTO--After years of organizing, the City of Toronto is finally a sanctuary for undocumented people.

A motion passed by City Council last week will allow every Torontonian to access City services regardless of their immigration status.  The motion, which passed by 37-3, will ensure that the estimated 200,000 undocumented people in the CIty will be able to access City services without fear of detention and deportation.  It also allows for training and education for services and the general public.

Though over 30 cities and 3 states in the US have similar policies, Toronto is the first city in Canada to adopt such a stance.

"The people that I work with, at Parkdale Community Legal Services are happy to hear services will become more easily accessible", says Tzazna Miranda, an organizer with No One Is Illegal, an organization that has been working on the issue for 10 years.  

Other organizations that took a lead role include the Immigration Legal Committee, Toronto Social Planning Council, South Asian Legal Clinic Ontario, Alliance for South Asian Aids Prevention, Parkdale Community Legal Services, Justicia for Migrant Workers, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty and the Workers Action Centre.  The groups came together to form the Solidarity City Network.

A similar policy was debated up under the previous David Miller administration, although it did not pass.   "I think Miller was overly cautious, from working with him," says Mac Scott, a lawyer with the Immigration Legal Committee and the Movement Defence Committee.  "I think the Ford administration is off balance right now and that along with the City Staff report provided the impetus for passing the motion," he said.

Though many of the organizers have expressed excitement, a number have noted that the new policy is not a cure-all. Councillor Joe Mihevc, who moved the motion on Council, stated that provincial/federal programs like welfare, labour standards and housing will not be covered.  "Clients sometimes think it means more access than it does," echos Scott.

Thomas Walkom, a columnist for the Toronto Star, called the new policy “irrelevant and misguided” saying that it doesn't add anything new that isn't already there and that focusing on federal and provincial laws would be more beneficial.    But Miranda and Scott believe this isn't the case.

"The motion adds an accountability mechanism through which residents of the city could report services that aren't being delivered consistently," says Miranda, adding that the City has also committed to pressuring the provincial and federal governments.  

"The main thing for me," says Scott, "is that the city is taking a stance that the Province ought to provide services like health, welfare, disability support, community housing to people regardless of their immigration status, and also taking a stance that the [Federal Government] ought to introduce a regularization program."

Besides Mihevc, Councillors Ana Bailao, Mike Layton and Janet Davis took a lead role in getting the motion passed. Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday, councillors Denzil Minnan-Wong and David Shiner voted against the motion. 

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