Powerful day of presentations to Council shows need and broad support for making Ottawa a sanctuary city

April 6 2017

Crowd at the March 30th Community and Protective Services Meeting at Ottawa City Council
Photo credit: Radio-Canada — Crowd at the March 30th Community and Protective Services Meeting.

On Thursday, March 30th, Councillor Catherine McKenney brought her report on making Ottawa a sanctuary city to the Community and Protective Services Committee of Ottawa City Council.

The report was an information item, meaning it was not up for a vote but did provide the opportunity for the public to weigh in.

Over the course of 7 hours, Councillors heard from 30 delegations in support of a sanctuary city policy. Social service providers, immigrant serving organizations, women’s groups, faith leaders, youth groups, community associations, lawyers, professors, and economists made an impassioned case for making Ottawa a sanctuary city.

Service providers spoke of residents they have worked with who have been unable or afraid to access services because of their immigration status. Kailee Brennan, Program Director of Matthew House, a shelter for asylum seekers, told the story of a woman and her three children who came to them just days before having been denied access to several services because she did not have papers:

“There are amazing networks that exist to step in and meet these kinds of needs, but they are often informal and not funded by anything other than compassion. We need a coordinated approach between the city and service providers, and a common understanding that residents of Ottawa, regardless of their immigration status, should be able to access city services when they are most in need.”

Siffan Rahman, Manager of the Ottawa Newcomer Health Centre, said her community outreach teams often meet people without status who are not accessing the services they need for fear of deportation, including elderly parents awaiting status who are afraid to leave the house for fear that any interaction with authorities could risk their deportation and separation from their children and grandchildren.

A long and diverse list of endorsements was presented, including motions in support of a sanctuary city policy passed by the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board and the Federation of Community Associations.

Community members outlined how a sanctuary city policy would help address ongoing problems of racial profiling and make racialized communities feel safer. Advocates laid out the concrete components a policy must contain in order to be effective. And experts explained that, despite the misconceptions being circulated by some on Council, a sanctuary city policy falls well within the City’s legal and political purview.

Despite all this, a few Councillors on committee demonstrated a blatant lack of respect for presenters, questioning their expertise, ignoring their testimony, even talking over them or leaving the room during deputations. At the end of the day some Councillors remained entrenched, continuing to say they had heard no evidence and that Ottawa has done enough, as though they hadn’t just heard 7 hours of evidence and arguments from their constituents telling them clearly and repeatedly: ‘There is a problem, and a sanctuary city policy is the solution.’

This response is disappointing and disingenuous. Some on Council seem more committed to digging their heels in than to listening to the evidence and opinions brought by the people who know best, including migrants themselves. One refugee woman wanted to make a deputation about not contacting police when she had been the victim of credit card fraud for fear of being deported – but she was scared away by the hostility of some Councillors.

Continuing to say ‘there is no problem’ and ‘Ottawa has done enough’ is a slap in the face to those who have been on the front lines of this work and who are asking the City to do more. Thursday’s deputations proved that a sanctuary city policy is both necessary and possible, and that it has overwhelming support from those who know best how it could improve the safety, well-being and dignity of all city residents. It seems the only thing missing is the political will to make it a reality.

We want to work with those councillors willing to bring a motion forward to Council. We ask supporters to keep up the pressure on your city councillors: tell them that Ottawa can and must do better; that a sanctuary policy is a concrete step in that direction. Stay tuned for further actions you can take in the coming weeks.

We extend a heartfelt thank you to all those who came out to make deputations, to show support in the gallery, to all those who watched and shared over social media, and to everyone who has raised their voice in support of making Ottawa a sanctuary city.

Delegations who presented on March 30th:

  • Siffan Ramadan, Manager, Newcomer Health Centre, Somerset West Community Health Centre
  • Mohamed Zakaria Khan, Ottawa Muslim Association
  • Leighann Burns, Director, Harmony House Women’s Shelter
  • Dillon Black & Andrea Balfour, Ottawa Coalition To End Violence Against Women & City for All Women Initiative
  • Jamie Liew, Immigration and Refugee Lawyer, University of Ottawa
  • David Moffette, Assistant Professor, Criminology, University of Ottawa
  • Toby Sanger, Economist with the Canadian Union of Public Employees
  • Rev. Steve Moore, Bethel St. Andrew’s United Church, Ottawa Presbytery of United Churches
  • Rev. Anthony Bailey, Parkdale United Church
  • Khaled Salam, Executive Director, AIDS Committee of Ottawa
  • Carrie Lynn Poole Cotnam, Chair, CUPE Ontario Social Services Sector and Executive member of CUPE Local 503 Ottawa Municipal Workers
  • Rabbi Liz Bolton, Ottawa’s Reconstructionist Community
  • Leslie Emory, Executive Director of Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization and Stakeholder Representative of Refugee 613
  • Jennifer Ridgley, Assistant Professor with expertise in sanctuary cities, Carleton University
  • Rev. Andrew Jensen, Knox United Church
  • Thierry Harris, Lowertown Community Association
  • Yavar Hameed, Lawyer, Hameed Law Paul Champ, Lawyer, Champ & Associates
  • Angella MacEwen, Economist with the Canadian Labour Congress
  • Bilan Arte, President, Canadian Federation of Students
  • Emma Buchanan, Youth engagement worker
  • Ibrahim Musa, Ottawa Youth Engagement Committee
  • Joan Auden, First Unitarian Congregation of Ottawa
  • Aditya Rao & Karen Cocq, Ottawa Sanctuary City Network
  • Sean McKenny, President, Ottawa & District Labour Council
  • Aidan Parchelo, Community member
  • Ashley Russell, Catalpa Cooperative
  • Kailee Brennan, Program director, Matthew House Refugee Shelter