Edmonton city council approves 'sanctuary city' status to aid undocumented immigrants

Edmonton city council has passed a policy in support of access to municipal services and programs for all undocumented residents.

'This is fundamentally, fundamentally about affording people the right to live in the city without fear'

Coun. Sarah Hamilton says the policy is about giving people the right to live in Edmonton without fear. (CBC)

A divided Edmonton city council has voted in favour of making it easier for undocumented immigrants to gain access to municipal services and programs.

The new policy recognizes that those with precarious immigration status may be reluctant to obtain services such as transit or recreation passes, or interact with bylaw officers, out of fear of deportation.

Coun. Jon Dziadyk, who voted against the policy along with two other councillors, argued the move failed to address how the federal government allowed residents to go undocumented.

That prompted an emotional response from Coun. Sarah Hamilton.

"The federal and provincial government have a ton of things they should be doing but this is fundamentally, fundamentally about affording people the right to live in the city without fear," said Hamilton. "It's about safety and security and to grandstand on dignity, basic human dignity, is appalling."

Hamilton said the policy isn't just for those with precarious immigration status, but also Edmonton's homeless residents. She said she has worked with undocumented people which gave her a good sense of the struggle they face, whether it involves access to health care, employment or education.

"I have seen first hand how the immigration process grinds people down to nothing," she told council.

Dziadyk was joined by councillors Mike Nickel and Tony Caterina in voting against the policy.

"If we go through with this, we're pushing people further underground by sanctioning subversion of federal law," said Dziadyk, "And really we should be spending our efforts to try and get people to have a legal status in Canada, in Edmonton, so they can participate meaningfully in society and feel safe here through legal means."

The so-called "access without fear" policies help immigrants without proper documentation to apply for many of the services a Canadian citizen could, without being questioned about their immigration status.

A report says the policy will allow city staff to consider the impact of expanding two initiatives that already provide access to transit and recreation passes for vulnerable Edmontonians.

During interaction with a peace officer, several types of identification are accepted, including a combination of out-of-country identification and a bill to confirm identity and residence. 

Training for community peace officers will be updated "to ensure a consistent approach relative to identification requirements," the report states.

Similar policies have been introduced by city councils in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, earning them the title of "sanctuary cities."