Grassroots Response to Rising “Sanctuary City” Interest
NOII-Toronto organizers have been working on Sanctuary City efforts since 2003. They used this experience to create resources for organizers in other cities and are encouraging activists to contact them for support around Sanctuary City policy development and campaigns as this wave of interest evolves across the country.
“Organizers in Toronto are helping grassroots groups in other cities to form alliances, build community power, draft motions and figure out a way to speak to councillors and get the best possible policy in this moment,” said NOII Toronto member Syed Hussan. “It is a strategic intervention intended to win rights for undocumented people and build a coalition to pressure premiers to declare Sanctuary provinces.”
Municipalities and cities have limited jurisdiction so NOII-Toronto organizers are trying to foster comprehensive policies that include:
- Barring all municipal services — including police — from collaborating with border and immigration authorities;
- Training for municipal workers and volunteers to insure that people aren’t asked to provide documents they may not have;
- Changing the wording on documents and forms and possibly creating new municipal IDs;
- Adding accountability mechanisms so that complaints can be filed if services are denied;
- Community education mechanisms such as (advertisements on busses have been displayed with the aim of informing undocumented people that services are available to them);
- Regular community input for changes to policies and practices on an annual or bi-annual basis.
Organizers in Toronto are speaking from experience as Toronto named itself a Sanctuary City in 2013, but a recent report by criminologists at Ryerson University argues the metropolis has failed to meet basic Sanctuary City thresholds. Toronto police contact border service authorities roughly 100 times per week to conduct status-checks on people who they suspect are undocumented, according to government data.
In Montreal, Jaggi says that Solidarity Across Borders is taking a different approach to NOII-Toronto that is not focused on shaping municipal policies but instead on building “Solidarity Cities“ through their own grassroots networks.
According to the Solidarity Across Borders website, “Solidarity City is the creation of a community that rejects a system engendering poverty and anguish, not solely for immigrants and refugees, but also for other Montrealers confronting these same realities.”
The Border is Everywhere
“There is an understanding of the border as this violent, exclusionary force at the outskirts of the country,” Syed said. “But the border exists inside the city. It exists when the school administrator asks for ID. There are everyday borders that are instituted and enforced by civilians.”
An important step is to insist that “we refuse to enforce these policies in our communities,” Syed said.
- No One is Illegal-Vancouver Coast Salish Territories
- No One is Illegal-Toronto
- Solidarity Across Borders
- Harsha Walia, Undoing Border Imperialism(AK Press, 2013)
Matthew Brett (@mattbrett_1984) is a social anarchist and organizer based in Winnipeg, traditional territory of the Anishinaabe peoples and homeland of the Metis Nation.