Bid for sanctuary city status still in limbo

Originally written for and published by Centretown News

The proposal to make Ottawa a sanctuary city is still up in the air after a city hall meeting on March 30.

No concrete decision was made on Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney’s proposal after the city’s community and protective services committee met to discuss the issue. But there is strong support from some religious groups.

Several Ottawa synagogues and churches have come out in support of the sanctuary city plan, which would make Ottawa a safe haven for those with precarious immigration statuses.

The policy would put into place a “don’t ask, don’t tell” concept. Municipal workers would then not be required by law to ask someone’s immigration status when that individual is accessing city services.

Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver have already become sanctuary cities.

The Ottawa Presbytery, a group within the United Church, came out in support of the sanctuary city plan in mid-March.

“We see that there’s a real sense of fear within our city, with non-status individuals, to access community services,” said Steve Moore, a minister with the Ottawa United Church. “These people, because of the fear, are being forced to live in the shadows.”

Moore attended the meeting at city hall, saying that it was more of an information session than anything else. Despite that, the turnout of supporters made Moore hopeful that the sanctuary city policy could pass when it’s eventually put to a vote.

“I was quite bowled over. There were 30 delegations,” sais Moore, referring to the 30 people who spoke to councillors on the committee. “There was a lot of energy in the room.”

Rev. Anthony Bailey of the Parkdale United Church also attended the meeting, and said his congregation is also in support of sanctuary status.

“It really intersects with our idea of promoting the common good,” Bailey said.

Both places of worship believe that compassion and acceptance in this issue go hand-in-hand with their faith, the clergymen said.

“We feel that we need to be compassionate to these people,” Moore said. “We need to recognize that we’re all apart of the human family and that if there are those who are suffering within our midst then we need to do everything we can to assuage that misery.”

Bailey sees nothing but benefits in Coun. McKenney’s policy, saying he’s spoken to mothers who haven’t immunized their children and victims of spousal abuse who haven’t come forward due to fear of being deported.

“People not being able to come forward means that they’re even more vulnerable,” Bailey said. “There are so many implications that show we’re all bound up together in health and safety.”

Coun. McKenney said she has plans to try to convince the other councillors and Mayor Jim Watson that the policy is worthwhile. However, Watson has stated that he opposes the policy.

Despite that, McKenney isn’t backing down any time soon, saying that the issue of people not accessing services due to fear is very important to her.

“I couldn’t just let it happen,” she said. “It’s time to do something as a city.”

McKenney has the support of many religious communities in the city; it’s just a matter of getting the support of the people who make the decisions.

In the meantime, some local churches, including Parkdale United Church and the United Church of Ottawa, can act as asylums for those with precarious immigration statuses.

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