‘Sanctuary’ bid sparks debate — but no vote — at city hall

By Caroline O’Neill

Representatives from across Ottawa gathered at City Hall on March 30 to debate the possibility of a sanctuary city designation at the community and protective services committee meeting.

“Immigration law enforcement is a federal responsibility,” said Somerset Ward Coun. Catherine McKenney in a report she presented at the meeting. “Municipal staff and service providers are not trained in immigration law enforcement, and should not be using local resources for this purpose.”

If Ottawa becomes a sanctuary city, individuals accessing municipal services won’t be questioned about their immigration status.

Since Ottawa joined the list of other Canadian cities considering the designation, it has sparked contentious debate amongst councillors and others.

On March 28, the Centretown Community Health Centre wrote an open letter to Mayor Jim Watson asking him to “join the concerned citizens of Ottawa who have publicly stated their support for a sanctuary city designation.”

But others vehemently opposed the status, calling it largely symbolic with complicated legal ramifications. Councillors George Darouze and Eli El-Chantiry tweeted Ottawa doesn’t need the designation.

The hours of testimony at the committee ended with Gloucester-South Nepean Coun. Michael Qaqish, Ottawa’s refugee special liaison, arguing the designation would prove harmful to immigrants who are legal residents.

“There is no issue in Ottawa,” he said.

‘Sanctuary City’ trended on Twitter in the Ottawa area with many residents voicing their opinions and following the debate.

Despite the discussion, no motion was put forward at the committee to declare Ottawa a sanctuary city.