Montreal city council passed a motion on Monday making it the latest Canadian jurisdiction to declare itself a “sanctuary city.”
The designation means undocumented refugees will have full access to local services regardless of their status, with the city following in the footsteps of Toronto, Hamilton and London, Ont.
Migrant rights’ groups called the measure a largely symbolic gesture as Montreal joins other North American places such as San Francisco and Chicago as designated sanctuary cities. Toronto became Canada’s first in 2013.
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 would not provide the tangible changes to make Montreal a true sanctuary city and safer place to be.
“The motion that the City of Montreal is putting forward today is limited, it’s symbolic, it’s not creating a real sanctuary city,” said Jaggi Singh, a spokesman for Solidarity Across Borders.
Singh said the city should at least ensure that Montreal police and transit officials not collaborate with Canada Border Services Agency. As it stands, the motion provides for that issue to be discussed at a later date.
Singh said there are countless instances where an arrest on a minor infraction can lead to deportation.
“The City of Montreal doesn’t have the direct authority over health or education or work or housing — the kinds of preoccupations everybody has when we want to build our lives,” said Singh.
But it does have say over the police, he added.
“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.”
Singh said the city should call the measure what it is — a promise to study the issue. He noted there has been no consultation with groups that deal daily with those affected, something that happened in Toronto.
“He’s coming from a good place, I’m not going to deny that,” he said of Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre. “But it doesn’t go far enough.”
In recent weeks, more and more people have flowed illegally across the United States border into Canada as President Donald Trump initiates a crackdown on illegal immigration and imposes new restrictions on refugees in the country.
In the current context, several Canadian cities have expressed interest in adopting similar motions, including Ottawa, Saskatoon and Regina.