Fredericton: the next sanctuary city?

Written by Tracy Glynn on March 20, 2017

No One Is Illegal signs were seen at the Rally Against Islambophobia and Deportations in Fredericton in February 2017. Photo by Biff Mitchell.

Fredericton – A group of university students, professors and community organizers are hoping to make Fredericton the next sanctuary city.

The group, No One Is Illegal Fredericton, decided to focus on this initiative in light of U.S. President Donald Trump’s anti-immigration policies and Canada’s failure to budge on policies that make life more difficult and dangerous for immigrants and asylum seekers.

“A sanctuary city is where undocumented people or people with uncertain immigration status should feel safe, where they can access city services without fear of being reported by service providers or the police to Canada Border Services Agency, and detained and deported as a consequence,” says Asaf Rashid, a third year law student at the University of New Brunswick and one of the organizers of the sanctuary city effort in Fredericton.

“Undocumented people number in the hundreds of thousands in Canada. They are refugee claimants who did not succeed on their applications. They are migrant workers, international students and visitors whose statuses expired. They are even permanent residents who lost their status on account of errors in trying to sponsor family members. They are our neighbours and friends,” says Rashid.

Over 250 people have signed an online petition supporting Fredericton becoming a sanctuary city and over 40 organizations are backing the initiative including New Brunswick’s largest public sector union, CUPE NB, faculty unions at the University of New Brunswick and St. Thomas University, the New Brunswick Refugee Law Clinic in Moncton and service providers such as Clinic 554 and Grace House.

The group has met with Fredericton city councillors Greg Ericson and Eric Megarity who are both supportive of the initiative. Fredericton Mayor Mike O’Brien told Global News in February that he was open to the idea.

The organizers behind the Fredericton initiative say a lot of work still needs to be done to educate people about sanctuary cities and dispel some misconceptions, namely that it asks people to break laws.

“There is nothing illegal about a sanctuary city. Immigration enforcement is under the jurisdiction of the federal government. There is no obligation under provincial law, or municipal law under it, to do the work of immigration enforcement. Municipal police are supposed to enforce the criminal code, provincial and municipal offences and court orders. That’s all,” says Rashid. “Service providers and police are fully within their right to operated by a ‘don’t ask’ policy, where they simply do not inquire into someone’s immigration status.”

The cities of Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Hamilton have passed sanctuary city resolutions. Twenty-five women’s organizations in Ottawa are pushing for that city to become the next sanctuary city. However, as reported recently in the cities of Toronto and Montreal, there have been problems with making sure that sanctuary city principles are followed. For the organizers in Fredericton, it is important that the city not pass a symbolic motion but one that actually protects people.

Jacqueline McKnight is a social work student at St. Thomas University who links her future as a social worker to her desire to see Fredericton achieve sanctuary city status.

“People seeking asylum from all kinds of dire situations deserve, and have the right, to access services in our city without fear of racial profiling, discrimination, or undue questioning about their status in our country. If I didn’t support and advocate for Fredericton to become a sanctuary city, I would not be adhering to my profession’s values and principles,” says McKnight.

The University of New Brunswick issued a statement in March saying that it it will welcome students from countries that are affected by Trump’s travel ban. “We played an integral part in welcoming refugees to New Brunswick last year, and UNB’s campuses are recognized by our staff, students, and communities as caring and friendly environments,” said George MacLean, Vice-President (Academic), UNB.

While attention is focused on Trump’s anti-immigration policies, Canada has its own discriminatory policies that need to go, according to No One Is Illegal chapters and migrant justice organizers across the country. These policies include the Canada-U.S. Third Safe Country Agreement that denies people who enter the U.S. or what’s considered a “safe country” from seeking asylum in Canada, and the Designated Countries of Origin list that refuses entry and stay for people in Canada if they are from a country on that list, countries considered to be “safe.” Canada has signed the U.N. Refugee Convention that states that all people fleeing persecution should be granted asylum.

No One Is Illegal Fredericton expressed these concerns to Fredericton MP Matt DeCourcey on Feb. 4, the day of the cross-country rally against Islamophobia and deportations, asking him to support the scrapping of the Third Safe Country Agreement and the Designated Countries of Origin list. However, the MP has yet to respond to their concerns, making sanctuary city an even more important goal for the organizers behind it who say lives will continue to be lost if inhumane border policies are not abandoned.

“Sanctuary cities are an affirmation that no one is illegal. All people who desire to stay should be allowed to stay, to live with their families and be a part of our communities,” says Rashid.

Tracy Glynn is an organizer with No One Is Illegal Fredericton.

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