Sanctuary cities are common throughout the United States, but as of right now there are only four of them in Canada. The turbulent politics surrounding immigration are changing the way we respond to it and there is talk of several more Canadian cities becoming sanctuaries, including Saskatoon.
It was announced in early February that the Saskatoon municipal government is beginning to discuss becoming a sanctuary city. This announcement comes in the aftermath of American president Donald Trump’s executive order for a 120-day ban on refugees entering the United States, as well as a 90-day ban on entry from seven Middle Eastern and North African countries. Both Saskatoon and Regina are considering adopting the sanctuary city status, following suit of some other cities in Canada, such as Vancouver and London, Ont.
Illegal immigration has previously not been prevalent in Canada the way it has in the U.S. In 2011, there were a reported 487 people caught entering Canada illegally, but the past year has seen a rise to over 1,000 people who were caught illegally entering.
This is still far from the numbers of migrants caught entering the U.S. illegally, which can reach over 1,000 migrants every day during peak seasons. However, with Trump’s exclusionary executive orders and promises of deportations, illegal immigration might be on the rise in Canada.
Becoming a sanctuary city means that everyone is welcome to feel safe in a city, regardless of their immigration status, and it also means taking the role of enforcing immigration status off of municipal law enforcement. This will mean that the local police force will be able to spend more time focusing on stopping actual crimes and keeping its people safer.
If Saskatoon goes through with becoming a sanctuary city, it would mean that everyone will be able to access police services without fear of being displaced. This will make for safer cities because of more trusting relationships between everyone living in the city and the police. It will make the use of health care, public transportation, schools and all other public services open to everyone as well.
There is the fear that sanctuary cities make it easier for criminals without immigration status to live in the city. The sanctuary city status does not make undocumented immigrants exempt from the law, it only ensures that their presence alone is not an indictable crime. If an undocumented immigrant were to otherwise break the law, they would still be prosecuted just like any other person.
As these discussions are only in the beginning stages, there is still quite a few things to be determined regarding the change. For example, how would this affect police training and how would they ensure unity among the police department on the new policy?
There is also the question of how the citizens of Saskatoon will react. There is a rising xenophobia problem in Canada, as was made obvious by the horrific Quebec shooting in January. The idea that exclusion is the only way to have safe communities is spreading quickly not just in Canada but throughout the whole Western world.
Welcoming immigrants to our communities and treating them as equals will help to lower the hostility from all involved. Inclusion, rather than exclusion, is the best course of action to create safe and happy communities.
A city diverse in population and culture with mutual respect may be a utopian dream, and having sanctuary cities is a small step in that direction — but a small step is better than no steps at all.
Making Saskatoon a sanctuary city might take some of the stigma away from refugee and immigration policy. Giving all people access to these services can only improve the living conditions of all people in the city. It will lower crime, keep the whole population healthier and better educated, and strengthen relationships between police and the community.
The benefits of Saskatoon becoming a sanctuary city greatly outweigh the detriments, so there is no reason why these discussions should not proceed into actions. This will not only make everyone a little bit more equal, but will also strengthen our communities and society as a whole.
Photo: dvids / Flickr