Montreal’s Vote to Become a Sanctuary City Is Being Called Symbolic and ‘Insulting’

“It’s not too difficult to distinguish yourself from Donald Trump in a city like Toronto or Montreal.”

by Jake Kivanc
Feb 21 2017, 4:39pm

On Monday, Montreal city council unanimously approved a motion to recognize the Quebec metropolis as a sanctuary city—a move that would allow those without identification or documentation to use city services—but critics are calling the move an act of political opportunism.

Following in the footsteps of a number of Ontario cities, such as Toronto, Hamilton, and London, Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre says the city's move to become a sanctuary city was largely a symbolic response to dialogue around a growing international immigration crisis, much of which relates to President Donald Trump's crackdown south of the border.

According to the Montreal Gazette , Coderre, previously an immigration minister under former prime minister Paul Martin's government, said that the motion will help to ensure those without documentation are seen as "victims" and not as criminals. He also noted that the city will push to—unlike Ontario's cities—allow those without identification to access provincial health and education services.  

"We are sending a message that refugees and those without papers are victims and so we have to help them," Coderre said. "We will ask Quebec to follow our lead, as we did with the (Vietnamese) boat people and Syrians. Some have been here for six to seven years. We need to fix their situations."

Toronto reaffirmed its stance as a sanctuary city shortly after protests against President Trump's immigration ban rocked the city for multiple days.

During an interview with VICE Tuesday morning Jaggi Singh, a prominent migrant-rights activist and spokesperson for the direct-to-action organization Solidarity Across Borders, called the vote a farce—citing similar votes in Toronto, London, and Hamilton, Ontario as being examples of how the phrase has become an empty promise in age where it's "easy to be progressive."

"It's not too difficult to distinguish yourself from Donald Trump in a city like Toronto or Montreal," Singh told VICE. "These are cities that are already diverse— not voting in favour of becoming a sanctuary city would actually be a political negative."

Singh, who has an extensive history of working with undocumented individuals, said that the problem with the concept of sanctuary cities is lack of restraint on police—noting how law enforcement who interact with someone who doesn't have documentation can still arrest and possibly attempt to deport that person if they want to.

"Cities need to have a direct responsibility here to make sure that police are not going to cooperate with the [Canadian Border Services Agency] (CBSA) if somebody gets stopped on the metro, or gets caught jay-walking," Singh told VICE, adding that he says this happens daily to people across the country.

"It's not just disingenuous, it's insulting."

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Lead image by Flickr user abdallah.