Montreal city council passed a motion Monday making it the latest Canadian jurisdiction to declare itself a “sanctuary city” for non-status immigrants.
The designation means undocumented refugees will have full access to local services regardless of their situation, with the city following in the footsteps of Toronto, Hamilton and London, Ont.
Mayor Denis Coderre told reporters he felt compelled to act because of events south of the border.
“One of the reasons I’ve done that is clearly because of what’s happening in the United States and what I’m witnessing in Europe,” Coderre said.
In recent weeks, more and more people have flowed illegally across the U.S. border into Canada as President Donald Trump cracks down on illegal immigration and imposes new restrictions on refugees.
Canada Border Services Agency says 452 people filed a claim for refugee asylum at Quebec-U.S. land border crossings in January.
Given that current context, several Canadian cities have expressed interest in adopting similar motions, including Ottawa, Saskatoon and Regina.
Toronto became Canada’s first sanctuary city in 2013.
Coderre, a former federal immigration minister, assured the measures will go beyond symbolism and help those who need it the most.
Available services would include access to municipal programs and buildings, including ibraries and recreation centres, while Coderre said he wants to discuss major issues such as health, housing and education with provincial and federal authorities.
“The bottom line is to integrate them,” he said. “And if you don’t have a criminal case (or pose a security risk), we will normalize your situation. You will be able to remain here.”
But some migrant rights’ groups called the measure largely symbolic as Montreal joined other North American cities such as San Francisco, Boston, New York and Chicago as designated sanctuary cities.
A number of groups told a news conference a few hours before the motion passed that while the gesture would be in good faith, it wouldn’t provide the tangible changes to make Montreal truly a sanctuary city.
“He’s coming from a good place, I’m not going to deny that,” said Jaggi Singh, a spokesman for Solidarity Across Borders. “But it doesn’t go far enough.”
Singh said the city should at least ensure that Montreal police and transit officials will not collaborate with Canada Border Services Agency and hand over undocumented migrants.
Singh said there are countless instances where an arrest on a minor infraction can lead to deportation, while the representative of a sex-workers’ rights group told the news conference that undocumented women working at massage parlours are routinely handed over to immigration officials.
“Honestly, in many ways, having a symbolic motion can be worse than having no motion at all,” said Singh.
“What it does is creates a false sense of security and false sense of protection and the moment where the police are deporting people, you destroy any sense of trust.”
Coderre said after the motion was adopted the city’s public security committee would study the matter of how police and transit officials deal with the migrants.
Opposition Leader Valerie Plante of Projet Montreal said how police work with undocumented people will be key.
“I think this is a great decision, but we have to be cautious not to create a false sense of security for those vulnerable people,” she said.
Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press