Montreal, sanctuary city? Not at all, according to statistics from the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) obtained by HuffPost Quebec.
Montreal declared itself a "sanctuary city" in February 2017, giving undocumented migrants the right to access city services without the fear of being reported to immigration officials. That should also mean that police do not contact the CBSA to inquire about or apprehend non-status people.
"The very principle of the sanctuary city is non-collaboration," said Refugee Assistance Committee spokeswoman Geneviève Binette.
But information obtained through Quebec's access act for documents held by public bodies shows that Montreal police have had more contact with the agency than before the sanctuary city status was adopted. According to the CBSA, it received 3,608 calls from Montreal police last year, compared to 2,872 in 2016 and 2,632 in 2015.
Over 80 per cent of the calls are to verify someone's immigration status. Police can also check arrest warrants or ask for fingerprints.
Montreal is not a sanctuary city. It was irresponsible to make that statement. Jaggi Singh
The contacts between Montreal police and CBSA is now the highest in the country. In comparison, the Toronto police drastically reduced the number of communications with the CBSA from 5,146 in 2016 to 3,542 in 2017.
(In 2013, Toronto was the first Canadian city to declare such sanctuary for undocumented newcomers, followed by the Ontario jurisdictions of Hamilton and London.)
While Quebec became the destination of many refugees fleeing the immigration policies of U.S. President Donald Trump, it's unclear if they had an impact on the CBSA data.
On Thursday, Montreal police were unable to explain why its statistics were so high compared to other jurisdictions. The police force has asked the Canadian Border Services Agency for clarifications on how those numbers are calculated, police spokeswoman Caroline Royer told HuffPost.
"Montreal is not a sanctuary city. It was irresponsible to make that statement," said activist Jaggi Singh, who works with the group Solidarity Across Borders that supports non-status people. "The police should not be working with the border services, otherwise we cannot say we are a sanctuary city."
According to Singh, Solidarity Across Borders regularly works with undocumented newcomers who believe they can interact with city staff or the police without fear of being deported. Which is wrong.
"Even a fairly simple intervention, such as a ticket for crossing the street in the wrong place, can lead to deportation," explained Singh.
|Peel Region (Toronto area)||924|
|York Region (Toronto area)||517|
|Sûreté du Québec||345|
|Ontario Provincial Police||323|
|Other police forces||2,592|
Solidarity Without Borders claims that CBSA officials violently arrested Lucy Francineth Granados last week and ordered her deportation. Granados arrived in Canada in 2009 after her husband's death and reported threats from a criminal gang. She sends money home to her three children, who live with their grandmother in Guatemala, said the group.
Granados' refugee claim was rejected which led to a deportation order. But she stayed as an undocumented person, became a vocal community organizer for workers rights, and applied for permanent residence on humanitarian grounds last summer. No decision has yet been issued in that application.
Rallies and petitions have been organized to protest Granados' detention, and to appeal to city and federal officials to step in.
The vast majority of police calls to border services are to verify a person's status. They do not have to do that.David Moffette, University of Ottawa professor
The modern concept of a sanctuary city rose in U.S. cities. David Moffette, a sociologist and professor at the University of Ottawa, said it's impossible for Canadian municipalities to become bonafide sanctuary cities the way American models can.
The legislative framework compels police in Canada to execute CBSA arrest warrants, for example, which is not the case south of the border. As soon as a police officer consults the Active Warrants Register, CBSA records appear alongside criminal warrants.
But Montreal police, as well as other forces, are not obliged to contact the CBSA directly, according to Moffette.
"The vast majority of police calls to border services are to verify a person's status. They do not have to do that. They go beyond the necessary minimum. And it's very disturbing that it increases after the city's [sanctuary] declaration," he said.
In the past, Moffette has used access to information requests to reference CBSA calls from police as an indicator of the level of co-operation between a municipality and the agency. Other services, such as housing and shelters, also sometimes ask for status information but co-operation with border services is harder to evaluate, according to the researcher.
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante was unavailable for comment on Wednesday. However, she said earlier this month that her predecessor failed to ensure necessary policies were in place to properly implement the concept of a sanctuary city.
Plante promised to announce her own action plan soon.
Example from Toronto police
Binette from the Refugee Assistance Centre believes that the Toronto police model of "don't ask, don't tell" could apply to Montreal. Toronto officers are not supposed to ask about someone's immigration status unless it's relevant, spokesman Mark Pugash told the Globe and Mail.
However, Moffette stresses that Toronto's policy is unequally applied, and the police service has indicated that it will support the discretion of officers in the field.
Jaggi Singh would like the City of Montreal to go further.
"The city can issue a directive to say that border officers are not welcome in municipal buildings. The CBSA is not a police force, they do not have the power to force the city. The buildings would become true sanctuaries," he says.
Singh and Moffette point out, however, that a provincial measure is needed to adequately protect non-status migrants.
Last summer, the government allowed undocumented children to attend Quebec schools.
With files and translation from Andree Lau
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