Selling sanctuary: Delegates, councillor make case for 'sanctuary city' status

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Selling sanctuary: Delegates, councillor make case for 'sanctuary city' status

More than two dozen presenters advocating to make Ottawa a sanctuary city made their case before the city's community and protective services committee Thursday, though there's still no indication there will ever be a vote on whether to adopt the designation.

Somerset ward Coun. Catherine McKenney, who presented an information report to committee Thursday afternoon and who supports the idea, said she wanted her elected colleagues to hear from experts before proceeding.

"We hear around the hallways whether something has any chance of success and before today it really didn't. There was a lot of misinformation, misconception, and not a lot of support ... So we'll see what happens after today. There's no next step yet," said McKenney.

The sanctuary city designation and its policies are meant to encourage undocumented workers to access social services without fear of deportation or being prosecuted as a result.

Advocates say undocumented people who need access to services such as shelter, health care or protection from abusive partners would rather suffer in silence instead of coming forward.

Motion must have teeth, says advocate

"What we're hearing today is that people are not accessing our services because they are fearful," said McKenney.

A sanctuary city policy would ensure frontline service providers do not ask a person's immigration status.

Canadian cities such as Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver have already adopted the designation.

Aditya Rao, who is involved with the Ottawa Sanctuary City Network, said any motion to declare the city a sanctuary needs to be backed up with teeth.

"It must include a review of city services, and identify gaps and barriers, a concrete implementation plan that includes training for staff and public education, and mechanisms for regular oversight," said Rao.

The city's own legal experts said in the report to committee that there are limits to what policies the city can enforce, since city workers are in some cases obliged to share information with law enforcement agencies and other levels of government. The committee and city council also has no power to direct police on such policies.

'Sanctuary city' trending on Twitter Thursday