British Columbia

Vancouver approves 'Access Without Fear' policy for undocumented immigrants

Though limited in scope, the city hopes the policy will influence police, health authorities and other agencies to adopt similar policies.

City hopes policy will influence police, health authorities and other agencies

Vancouver city council has approved a policy to ensure city staff will not ask for immigration status during the provision of services. (CP PHOTO/Chuck Stoody)

Vancouver city council unanimously agreed Wednesday to approve a policy that will allow residents with uncertain, or even no immigration status, to access city services without having to fear they may be reported and ultimately detained, or deported.

Though limited in scope, council and immigration advocates view the policy as a step towards influencing police, health authorities and other municipalities to come up with similar measures to protect those who fear they may be detained or deported on the basis of their immigration status 

The policy — titled "Access to City Services without Fear (ACSWF) for Residents with Uncertain or No Immigration Status" — states that city staff will not ask for immigration status before providing certain services, and will also not pass information about immigration to other levels of government unless required by law.

The policy will apply to city services including fire and rescue, community services such as homeless outreach shelters and non-market housing, and some other services.

The report states that currently "the city is not aware of any city services that require the collection of immigration status information."

Policy applies to city services, not police

Immigration lawyer Zool Suleman helped the city draft the policy.

"The concern is that these two groups of people [those with uncertain or no immigration status] are holding themselves back from having access to city services," said Zool Suleman, an immigration lawyer who worked on drafting the policy as a member of the mayor's working group on immigration.

"For example, if there's an emergency and say the fire truck comes ... the question becomes: Are they afraid the person who is coming to help them will take their data and report them to Canada Border Services [Agency]?

"If they're victims of crime are they afraid to call police because they think the police will report them?"

The issue of agencies reporting immigrants who are undocumented or without status received widespread attention after Lucia Jimenez, a Mexican, died in CBSA custody in December 2014 after coming into contact with Transit Police.

Lucia Vega Jimenez is shown in a coroner's inquest handout photo released Monday, Sept. 29, 2014. (The Canadian Press)

Transit Police announced last year that they would stop detaining fare evaders because they lack immigration documents for the CBSA.

The policy approved by the city does not apply to the Vancouver Police Department, the Vancouver Park Board or the Vancouver Public Library.

However, councillors are hoping others — particularly Vancouver police — will eventually follow their lead.

City hopes to influence other cities, agencies

"It's high time the Vancouver Police Department, the Canada Border Services Agency and the RCMP implemented clearly what their policies are with regards to individuals with no status, or uncertain status," said Suleman.

"It's high time that this fear was taken off the street, and we get back to having a situation where people aren't fearful of getting services."

With files from CBC's The Early Edition

To hear the full story listen to the audio labelled: Vancouver approves policy to help undocumented immigrants feel safe accessing city services


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