Quebec immigration lawyers push Montreal to become a real 'sanctuary city'

The main recommendation, put forward by the Quebec Association of Immigration Lawyers this week, is for the City of Montreal to implement a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for immigration status.

Main recommendation is to implement a 'don’t ask, don’t tell' policy for immigration status

According to Guillaume Cliche-Rivard, the president of the Quebec Association of Immigration Lawyers, a sanctuary city is a place where residents are able to access city services regardless of their immigration status. (Radio-Canada)

Over a year after former mayor Denis Coderre dubbed Montreal a "sanctuary city," a group of immigration lawyers has offered a list of recommendations to ensure non-status residents in the city get the services they need.

The main recommendation is to implement a "don't ask, don't tell" policy for immigration status.

A sanctuary city, according to the president of the Quebec Association of Immigration Lawyers (AQAADI), is a place where residents are able to access city services regardless of their immigration status — and without fear that accessing those services will result in their arrest or deportation.

The term carries no official legal definition, however.

Coderre initially referred to Montreal as a "sanctuary city" in January 2017 while tweeting a response to U.S. President Donald Trump's travel ban, which proposed limiting entry into the U.S. for visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries.

"At that time, Trump was enacting more and more policies against immigrants, against refugee claimants," Guillaume Cliche-Rivard, president of AQAADI, told CBC Homerun's Saroja Coelho. "In Canada, we were having the complete or almost complete opposite."

In February 2017, city council voted unanimously in favour of a motion that declared Montreal a sanctuary city for people without legal status.

But Mayor Valérie Plante, who was elected last fall, said in March that Montreal was not officially a sanctuary city, like Coderre had suggested.

Plante said the city would work toward providing new programs to make this happen, according to Cliche-Rivard.

Dont ask, don't tell

That's what pushed AQAADI to make its recommendations, published earlier this week.

The group said the current system means that people in Montreal who don't have legal status have access to less services than residents that do.

"[Non-status residents] are actually paying for [city] services within their rent, within their use of public transport, by paying their taxes at the grocery store," Cliche-Rivard said. "In a sense, they are contributing to the economy in the same way that we are."

RCMP officers help children as they climb through the snow to cross the border into Quebec. (Christinne Muschi/Reuters)

Not having status affects peoples' access to municipal services like swimming classes for children or access to public libraries, but also more necessary things, like police protection.

"We have had many situations … of women in situations of abuse who were uncertain of their status, or did not have status in Canada, who would not access police help because they were afraid of the consequences," Cliche-Rivard said.

Those consequences include having police report them to the Canadian Border Services Agency, and thus face deportation.

These problems can lead to the marginalization of women and children in particular, the AQAADI report says.

Discussions with the city ongoing

The AQAADI has met with the city and discussions are ongoing, Cliche-Rivard said.

"We are very happy with how the city has been working and accepting and being open with regards to the propositions," he said.

He said he couldn't say whether the city would adopt the group's recommendations, however.

A city representative told CBC News that since the issue is still being worked on, it's too early to comment.

With files from CBC Montreal's Homerun