Unions urge Canadian municipalities to join the “Sanctuary City” movement

June 1, 2017

The Canadian Labour Congress is urging Canadian municipalities to adopt “sanctuary city” status to support and protect non-status migrants who have been forced to flee their homes due to conflict, violence, and persecution.

“We hope more municipalities will take this step to support people who have very few options and who are just trying to keep themselves and their families safe,” said CLC President Hassan Yussuff.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says the world is experiencing the higher than ever levels of displacement. The agency says that at the end of 2015, at least 65.3 million people had been forced from their homes, compared to 59.5 million a year earlier. In 2015, the most recent year for which statistics are available, 24 people were forced out of their homes every minute of every day. Nearly half are children.

“Canada has the means to help people escape the terrible conditions they’re fleeing, so we should do everything we can to offer them a safe place to live. Canadian municipalities have an important role to play,” he said.

Municipalities have a very unique role to play because many of the services provided have a vital impact on the lives and well-being of residents. A municipality that adopts sanctuary city designation provides residents without full immigration status and/or without full status documents from the federal government access to municipal services without fear of detection, detention or deportation. Such services include libraries, recreational programs, child care, emergency shelters, food banks, public health, transportation, and police services.

Yussuff emphasized that a sanctuary city designation is only effective and meaningful when accompanied with strong municipal policy implementation, training for municipal management and staff, as well as a public education campaign.

“Public education is an important part of the sanctuary city designation, because migrants are often subjected to racist attitudes and even violence as a result of prejudice, Islamophobia, and anti-immigrant sentiment,” said Yussuff.

“But these designations will put Canada on the right side of history and will mean that Canadian municipalities are taking an active stand against racism and xenophobia,” he added.