Access Without Fear: Building a City of Sanctuary
City of Toronto
Providing access to city services to non-status or undocumented immigrants reduces fear of deportation while contributing to wider community safety and well-being.
On February 21, 2013, Toronto became the first Canadian municipality to formally provide a sanctuary for non-status or undocumented immigrants. While the City of Toronto has long had an informal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy that meant city staff could do their jobs without asking about immigration status, it is now implementing a formal Access Without Fear policy.
As Toronto Star reporter Nicholas Keung wrote, “Council’s vote was significant at a time when the undocumented population is expected to surge in 2015, when many legal but temporary foreign workers will see their four-year work permits expire under a new federal law and potentially move ‘underground.’”
City staff is reviewing ways to implement the decision, including ensuring that all residents have access by removing identification requirements to a wide range of core service areas, such as healthcare, education, income support programs, employment protection, affordable housing, settlement services, social assistance and legal services. At the time of the vote, Toronto City Council also requested the Federal government establish a regularization program for undocumented residents and that the Provincial government review opening access to its funded services.
Staff will consult widely with community groups, some of whom were instrumental in bringing this policy change to Council. Many are part of the Solidarity City Network, an informal collective of Toronto residents who advocate for regularization of undocumented people. Their key argument, supported by the City, is that undocumented people need access to services to reduce fear, increase public health and safety of all residents, and contribute to the city’s prosperity. After all, most of them pay taxes.
With Access Without Fear, Toronto joins a growing “sanctuary city”movement now in 36 US cities and 14 cities in the United Kingdom, respectively, where local governments are adopting formal policies that ensure all residents can access municipal services, regardless of immigration status. As a result of Toronto’s decisions, the city of Hamilton is also considering such a policy.
- Sheffield, United Kingdom: Cities of Sanctuary, Communities of Welcome
- Webinar: Welcoming Cities: Municipal Leadership on Immigrant Integration
- San Francisco: What is the Sanctuary Ordinance? (City and County of San Francisco website)
For this Good Idea contact:
City of Toronto
100 Queen Street West
Toronto, Ontario, Canada,