By TOM GODFREY
Toronto may soon become a “Sanctuary City” for thousands of undocumented workers who do not have status in Canada but are allowed to access municipal services without fear, according to City staff.
A Toronto identity card is one item being proposed to be issued to undocumented workers as proof they reside here and are eligible for city services.
The proposals are from a Working Group that was formed to look at how thousands of newcomers, who have do not have full immigration status, can access City services without fear of arrest.
The measures will be voted on by a Community Development and Recreation Committee this week at City Hall. If the committee gives a green light, it then goes for a vote before Council.
The Group, which is made up of City staff, has prepared an “Undocumented Workers in Toronto” report that claims a municipal identification card can make service access easier.
They are also calling for the training of staff and front-line workers in dealing with those who have no status; the creation of a complaints process and an education campaign to alert the public.
City Council last year approved full access to services without fear to immigrants “without full status or without full status documents”.
Many of those without status are in Canada illegally.
The report estimates there are between 20,000 and 500,000 undocumented people living in Canada and 50 per cent of them reside in Toronto.
It suggested Toronto become a “Sanctuary City” as called for by some immigration advocates.
“Canada does not have exit controls,” the report stated. It is “impossible to know how many people who enter Canada under some form of temporary status remain in the country when their permits expire”.
Denise Andrea Campbell, Director, of Social Policy, Analysis and Research, said the identity card was brought up during community consultations.
“It is a complex issue and it creates more barriers for undocumented workers,” Campbell told Share. “Staff will be recommending that the card not proceed but it is up to the Committee.”
Campbell said undocumented residents do not have to answer questions relating to their immigration status to obtain City services. The information may be required for some housing issues.
“The identification program is limited because the cards are not accepted by federal agencies as a form of identification, cannot serve as a driver’s licence and not valid to purchase alcohol or tobacco,” the report warned.
It said the data on the undocumented will be kept for a year and there may be privacy concerns as to who can access the information.
“This information would be vulnerable to disclosure during the retention period in the event of a law enforcement investigation or a formal request from another branch of government,” the report said.
It called on Council to ask Ottawa and the province to reconsider immigration and refugee policies so the undocumented can access social assistance, health care and housing.
People without status in Canada live in constant fear of deportation, distrust of authority, isolation due to family separation and a sense of disconnection from society, the report said.
The identity cards are in use in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C.; Trenton, New Jersey and New Haven, Connecticut.