Key to “Sanctuary City” is “access without fear,” a goal that requires many players to succeed

News reports about Vancouver’s first steps toward a “sanctuary city” policy have sounded the right note of caution: a “sanctuary city” declaration without real substance would be worse than doing nothing at all. The goal is to make it possible for all city residents, documented or not, to feel safe to access vital services without fear that their actions could lead to deportation.

The result is beneficial to all. To take just one example: women facing domestic violence should be able to seek police assistance or health services without the fear that their actions will trigger deportation because they lack immigration documentation.

As Alejandra López Bravo, of the advocacy group Sanctuary City told The Tyee, “a policy on paper doesn’t make any sense; there needs to be meaningful implementation.

“For that, we need to have TransLink and the VPD on board, otherwise you might have a lot of backlash, or a policy that doesn’t mean anything in the lives of affected people.”

I first raised the issue early this year with UBC professor Daniel Hiebert, my co-chair on the Mayor’s Working Group on Immigration, and our colleagues in the working group. These discussions came on the heels of a meeting with Lopez Bravo and her colleagues in the Sanctuary City group.

The conclusions were clear-cut. First, any consultation on sanctuary city policy would require the voices of undocumented workers at the centre, something that takes care and consideration to achieve. Secondly, to have substance, such a policy would require the collaboration of agencies and boards outside the city’s jurisdiction, like police forces, the Vancouver School Board and health services.

A morning-long workshop last month brought together a range of interested parties, including Sanctuary City representatives. We scoped out various aspects of the project — who needed to be involved, how they could be involved and what issues needed to be considered.

The Working Group will include these findings in its report to the Mayor as it winds up its work for this term in the next couple of months. The Working Group’s recommendations will be available for action when a new mayor and council are elected in November.

Personally, I am keen to see this work proceed, but it was clear from the first meeting that “access without fear” is easy to say, much more difficult to achieve.