February 21, 2017
René Bruemmer, Montreal Gazette
City council unanimously passed a motion declaring Montreal a “sanctuary city” Monday, pledging that undocumented immigrants can have access to municipal services without fear of being deported.
The city is following in the footsteps of municipalities like Toronto, San Francisco and Chicago that have adopted similar designations.
In Montreal, it will mean that immigrants who lack citizenship papers can receive help with finding lodging, integrating into society and obtaining a job without having to worry about being reported to border security officials, Mayor Denis Coderre said.
“We are sending a message that refugees and those without papers are victims and so we have to help them,” Coderre said. “We will ask Quebec to follow our lead, as we did with the (Vietnamese) boat people and Syrians. Some have been here for six to seven years. We need to fix their situations.”
Montreal will approach Quebec to modify elements of provincial jurisdiction so that illegal immigrants can have access to health care and their children can get free education, Coderre said.
Calling it a historic moment that responds directly to the anti-immigration policies of U.S. President Donald Trump, who has promised to round up and deport illegal immigrants en masse, Coderre said opposition parties and immigrant aid groups would be consulted in creating the new city policy.
He noted that 452 illegal immigrants crossed the border from the United States to Quebec in January — 315 more than during the same period last year, highlighting the need for new policies in a rapidly evolving climate. New services for undocumented immigrants should be available in a matter of months, Coderre said.
Valérie Plante, leader of opposition party Projet Montréal, applauded the motion, but said concrete measures are lacking.
“The goal is very noble, but we have to admit that we do not have all the tools necessary to declare the city a sanctuary city,” she said. “We mustn’t create a false sense of security. We can’t have people who are already vulnerable become more so because we don’t have all the right conditions in place.”
A number of migrants’ rights groups told a news conference a few hours before the motion passed that while the gesture would be in good faith, it would not provide the tangible changes to make Montreal truly a sanctuary city and a safer place to be.
“The motion that the City of Montreal is putting forward today is limited. It’s symbolic; it’s not creating a real sanctuary city,” said Jaggi Singh, a spokesman for Solidarity Across Borders.
Singh said the city should at least ensure that Montreal police and transit officials do not collaborate with Canada Border Services Agency.
He said there are countless instances where an arrest on a minor infraction can lead to deportation.
“The City of Montreal doesn’t have the direct authority over health or education or work or housing — the kinds of preoccupations everybody has when we want to build our lives,” said Singh.
But it does have say over the police, he added.
Several Canadian cities have expressed interest in adopting similar motions, including Ottawa, Saskatoon and Regina. Montreal has roughly 50,000 residents who are undocumented immigrants, Solidarity Without Borders said.
The Canadian Press contributed to this report.