Sanctuary city debate headed to committee for public discussion

Mayor says he doesn't think there's support among council for declaration

Catherine McKenney

Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney says she will be sending a report on making Ottawa a sanctuary city to the community and protective services committee next month, where the public will be able to comment. (CBC)


The debate over whether Ottawa should become a sanctuary city appears to be heading to the community and protective services committee next month, where the public will be able to weigh in on the issue.

Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney was expected to move a motion at Wednesday's council meeting to debate the designation, but no motion ever came.

After the meeting, McKenney said she'd heard from many people across the city who were calling for more public consultation on the issue first.

"By this morning, I thought that maybe it would be better to put this through a committee, give people the opportunity to come out," McKenney told CBC News.

'My sense is in talking with a number of councillors, there's very little support for it.' - Mayor Jim Watson

A term adopted by some Canadian cities — including Vancouver, Toronto, and London, Ont., — a sanctuary city is one in which undocumented immigrants are not refused social services.

The designation doesn't carry any legal status, but it's generally considered to be a confirmation to immigrants that they don't need to fear being detained or deported if they seek out help for domestic violence abuse, for example.

McKenney believes that U.S. President Donald Trump's travel ban proposal has many Canadians worried about the safety and welfare of undocumented immigrants, who often live in very precarious situations.

But Mayor Jim Watson said that the situation is different in Canada than south of the border. For one thing, said Watson, Ontario city councils do not give direct orders to police forces.

And councils cannot ignore federal or provincial regulations when it comes to issuing social service payments, he added.

Jim Watson Ottawa

'Not one issue has come to my office'

As well, the mayor doesn't think there's a problem.

"I checked with staff, and they could not come up with one single example in recent memory of any individual being denied service in an emergency fashion, or a library card, or other city services — not one," said Watson.

"So is this a classic case of a solution looking for a problem? …  I've never had one [of these issues] come to my office in my seven years as mayor."

However, proponents of the sanctuary city concept argue that the reason officials don't hear about this issue is that undocumented immigrants don't seek help.

Watson said he didn't know of any estimates of how many undocumented immigrants might be living in Ottawa.

Little support?

The sanctuary city issue has been a hot topic in the halls of power over the past week, with councillors weighing in on both sides of the issue.

"My sense is, in talking with a number of councillors, there's very little support for it," Watson said.

But it appears that before making it to council, the issue will be discussed at the CPS committee, chaired by Coun. Diane Deans.

Most likely, a report on a sanctuary city designation will be on the Mar. 30 committee agenda. Public delegations will then be allowed to speak to the issue before it goes to full council. 

More On This Story

More from CBC News

Tell us what you think