City of Vancouver grants access without fear

April 6, 2016

By Vancouver Sun |

A city plan to offer services with no questions asked to Vancouver residents at risk of detention or deportation on the basis of their immigration status passed unanimously during public hearing Wednesday. 

Nearly a dozen residents told councillors before the vote that they supported the policy, but all had concerns that its reach was not far enough. 

Under the policy, city staff will not ask for the immigration status of residents before providing services, and they will not relay their immigration status to other public institutions unless required by law.

Alejandra Lopez Bravo, a member of Sanctuary Health who was born and raised in Mexico, said the city’s new Access to City Services Without Fear policy “will contribute to making Vancouver a safer, healthier and more welcoming city.”

But the policy only applies to services provided by the city, and not to civic services such as those provided by police, parks and libraries, which are governed by individual boards. It would also not cover the agencies of other governments that are active in the city. Because of those limitations, the city shied away from adopting the term “sanctuary city,” which is used by municipalities in the U.S. that have similar policies. 

Lopez Bravo, who has been living in Vancouver for nine years, stressed that until all agencies adopt policies similar to that of the city, borders will remain around health, safety, education and other services.

Meredith Baker, also a member of Sanctuary Health, a community group of health workers with experience working with immigrant and refugee communities, said everyone, regardless of their nationality or citizenship, should have the ability to access services without fear. 

“No one should be a victim of violence and not be able to call for help. No one should have to tell their Canadian-born children that they can’t go to school and receive an education. No one should have to suffer in medical distress and not be able to access emergency and health care services. And no one should have to live in fear everyday,” Baker said. 

Councillor Geoff Meggs said sanctuary cities in the U.S. exist under different constitutional and civic realities, which helps to explain the relative limitations of Vancouver’s policy.

“This policy is tailored to Canadian realities. In my view, in spite of the concerns that have been raised about the steps it hasn’t yet taken, it’s the most comprehensive and most specific of any in Canada at this time,” Meggs said before the vote.

Meggs said there are many reasons why people wind up with uncertain immigration status. He said there is some perception “that somehow or other people who come here and have uncertain status or no status are conducting a manoeuvre or some kind of deceptive trick. But in fact … it’s often the last event in a series of impossible-to-comprehend setbacks that leads people to wind up undocumented.” 

Mayor Gregor Robertson said “however you define sanctuary, it’s a positive term. It opens eyes and opens minds to possibilities.”

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