Toronto city council passed a motion Wednesday Feb. 20, 2013 to extend essential city services to undocumented immigrants.
In a landslide vote, 37-3, council decided to allow immigrants whose visas have expired, or whose refugee status is denied, to access many city services.
Despite being hailed as a victory by many activists, some critics called the motion completely unnecessary.
“We’ve already been doing it for a long while,” said Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday (Ward 3), in a phone interview. “Anybody can access our services and they don’t have to declare themselves a citizen or prove it or show any papers, they just go in and register, so there’s no point to that.”
Holyday suggested city council was simply making a show by passing the motion, noting that Toronto public health and other departments have long been providing these services with no questions asked.
Councillor Mike Layton (Ward 19) disagreed with Holyday’s sentiments, but agreed that the motion’s purpose was indeed to send a message. According to Layton, the idea was to let the illegal immigrants of Toronto know that they do not have to live in hiding in their city.
“It’s important for this city to overcome some of the barriers that exist, whether or not they are real or not,” Layton said. “There are people who are afraid to come for much needed support, with healthcare, with abuse in their relationships or an abusive employer, an employer that perhaps doesn’t follow labour laws or puts their personal safety at risk.”
It is Layton’s belief that fear of deportation is preventing people from using services they may desperately need.
But one question still remains; is Toronto even allowed to pass a motion like this?
Holyday believes that city council is stepping on federal jurisdiction, and says that if Toronto city council has a problem with the current immigration laws they have every right to take it up with the federal and provincial governments.
Layton insists that Toronto has every right to declare itself a sanctuary city.
Officials with Immigration minister Jason Kenney’s office told Toronto Observer in a telephone interview that Toronto’s motion would not stop the federal government from tracking down illegal immigrants.
Kenney himself issued a public statement Friday, Feb. 22, 2013 criticizing Toronto’s move.
“If you’re here illegally, please respect our laws and go back to your country,” Kenney told the Toronto Star.
Toronto is considered to be Canada’s first sanctuary city for illegal immigrants.
According to No One Is Illegal, an activist group, there are over 400,000 people in the GTA who do not have their immigration papers in order.
There are various sanctuary cities in the USA, including Chicago, New York, Washington D.C. and New Jersey. In the UK, Sheffield has also declared itself a sanctuary city.