What is the Ottawa Sanctuary City Network?

The Ottawa Sanctuary City Network is a coalition of social service providers, lawyers, advocates, migrants, researchers, and activists who are committed to making Ottawa a more inclusive and safe city for all residents. Our current campaign focuses on efforts to make Ottawa a city where all people, regardless of immigration status, are able to access municipal services without fear of discrimination, detention or deportation.

What is a Sanctuary City?

The term refers to cities that have adopted policies to ensure that all residents, regardless of immigration status, have access to municipal services. To ensure that people can access services without fear, these policies must provide guarantees to residents that service providers will refrain from collecting information about immigration status. These policies must also prevent service providers from sharing any such information with other levels of government, in particular with immigration enforcement, unless required to do so by law. For this reason, in Canada these policies are sometimes referred to as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” or “Access Without Fear” policies.

Over 35 cities in the United States have sanctuary policies in place. In Canada, the cities of Toronto, Hamilton, and London have all passed motions to implement sanctuary policies. In the face of Trump’s ban, and rising anti-Muslim politics in the US, many cities and university campuses in the United States have reaffirmed or re-introduced sanctuary policies.

Why Make Ottawa a Sanctuary City?

Migrant and racialized communities in Canada are experiencing increased insecurity and violence as a result of the rise in anti-immigrant sentiment and Islamophobia. Ottawa is in a position to take a leadership role in creating a safer, more welcoming community. It’s time we step up!

Successive federal governments have created immigration policies that allow some immigrants to visit or work in Canada, but many are denied full citizenship. As a result, Canada now has over half a million migrants without status, over 400,000 on exploitative temporary work permits, and nearly as many others that are living precariously as refugee claimants, students or on tourist visas while they seek access to permanent immigration status.

All these people separated into different “immigration streams” are migrants. Migrants who are either completely shut off from basic social services and labour protections, or have to pay a high price to access them. Shutting people out from schools, shelters, life-saving healthcare, minimum wages or labour protection is unjust, unfair and unacceptable.

While not having jurisdiction over immigration, cities can act to minimize exclusion and ensure that all residents have access the city services they are entitled to. By declaring that city services will be made available to all, regardless of immigration status, and by making sure that agencies that receive city funding respect these guidelines, we can make Ottawa healthier, safer, and more welcoming.

The Ottawa Sanctuary City Network organizes for a city where everyone, irrespective of immigration status, can access services without fear of detention or deportation.

A sanctuary city is a healthy city

When some people in our community are afraid to access the public health services they are entitled to, this puts the rest of the city at risk. Children may not receive their vaccinations, and contagious diseases may not be identified and treated. This impacts their well-being and is also a public health issue.

A sanctuary city helps women and children live free of violence

Women in abusive relationships are less likely to report abuse or access support and shelter services if they fear that doing so would put their families’ immigration status at risk. Services for women who have experienced violence can only fully protect survivors if information about immigration status remains confidential. A sanctuary policy helps women and children build lives free of violence.

A sanctuary city is a safer city

Refugees, new immigrants, temporary foreign workers, or people who are out of status are often afraid to contact police if they are the victim of, or witness to a crime. Ensuring that Ottawa police will not inquire or share information about immigration status, unless required to do so by law, is key to improving safety. Many police forces in the U.S. consider such policies a part of their community policing initiatives.

A sanctuary city is a happier city

If parents are afraid to access public transit, city parks and recreation services, such as sports, clubs, camps, arts, and cultural programs, children are denied the ability to fully participate in city life. Access to services is central to inclusion, health and happiness.