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The Case For Making Ontario A Sanctuary Province For Immigrants

A sanctuary province makes all provincial services and protections accessible to everyone regardless of their immigration status.

Earlier in the year, you might have seen the outrage over the Ontario NDP's intention to declare Ontario a "sanctuary province." Declaring Ontario a sanctuary province would make all provincial services and protections accessible to everyone — including refugees and undocumented or out-of-permit individuals — regardless of their immigration status.

Reading through the misinformation, you would be forgiven for thinking this would result in a complete collapse of Ontario's services. But it's not. The sanctuary concept is such a no-brainer that in February 2013, even Doug Ford as a Toronto city councillor voted in support of it (see Item 6 in the link).

Turning the province into Sanctuary Ontario is a great idea, and chances are you already support it. Here's why Sanctuary Ontario isn't a new idea and has been an ask of almost all immigrant rights and immigrant services groups in Ontario:

1. Labour rights

There are hundreds of thousands of people in Ontario on work permits, or working on study or expired permits. Because of their lack of permanent immigration status, bad bosses can abuse or exploit them, paying people below minimum wage and making them work in unsafe conditions.Ontario laws specifically don't apply to industries where many migrants work, including agriculture and domestic work. That's just not fair.

Ensuring that Ontario laws protect them will mean that bosses won't be able to pit citizen workers against migrant and undocumented workers, and will treat everyone equally. This would make the economy better for all of us. Denying full labour rights or permanent status for all is a bad-boss strategy we should oppose.

Ontario could clear the way and ensure everyone, no matter what their age or status, gets a chance at an education.

2. Education

There are many kids in Ontario whose parents are trying to get them permanent resident status. International, federal and even Ontario laws says these kids should be in school regardless of their status. But some school boards haven't trained their staff properly, so kids are turned away, even threatened. Schools also ask for medical records, which refugees may not have, and instead of assisting students, deny them in admission.

Having kids in school, and keeping them there, makes society better for all of us. And once they graduate, they have to get a federal permit to go to Ontario universities or colleges. Ontario could clear the way and ensure everyone, no matter what their age or status, gets a chance at an education.

3. Policing

In 2015, Toronto police called Canada Border Services Agency 100 times every week if they suspected someone didn't have permanent resident status. That is, they had no evidence — they just had a "suspicion." As you can imagine, this suspicion often coincided with the colour of the person's skin or if they had a "different accent."

If you live in Toronto, you know a lot of people who have a "different" accent. Do we really need police to be calling immigration enforcement even when there is no warrant? That's a waste of time and money, and makes the city unsafe for people of colour. Ontario could easily stop communication between police and Border Services and remove an incentive for the police to misuse resources to racially profile people.

4. Health care

If someone is sick, and they don't have immigration papers, they might put off going to the hospital until it's a major emergency. At that point, hospitals admit them anyway — but at a much higher cost to the public health care system. Delayed access to healthcare means loss of wages to the family, increased chances of infection, and increased costs to the public health care system as a result of emergency care rather than preventative care. If Ontario removed barriers to health care, we would all be healthier.

5. Housing

If you know anything about immigration to Canada, it is that it is confusing, arbitrary and complicated. People lose their status regularly, and often are able to get it back. But in the meantime, even if one member in publicly subsidized housing loses their status, the entire family is evicted. As you can imagine, this can throw an entire family into turmoil. They have to decide between getting a good lawyer to get their immigration status sorted or move into more expensive housing.

In Ontario, in some cases, the wait time for public housing is over 10 years long. Making sure lack of immigration status is not a barrier to getting on the list doesn't bump anyone off, it just allows everyone who lives here the same access.

At the end of it, we have to ask ourselves, what kind society do we want to be?

These are all reasonable, simple things that many of us have been asking for. We have to make sure that no matter who wins the election, not only must they ensure that provincial services are accessible to all, these services need to be fully funded for everyone with or without status.

You should also remember that everyone who lives in Ontario pays HST (a tax on everything we buy) and property tax (either through ownership or rent). Most non-permanent residents also pay income tax. In fact, tens of thousands of people have been paying taxes and not getting services for decades — and they have paid for these services, and more, many times over.

But the question isn't about money. At the end of it, we have to ask ourselves, what kind society do we want to be? Do we want to be a society where we say that someone should be denied education or health care simply because they weren't born here? I don't think so. I think you and I both agree that giving people the very bare minimum services and protections is not something to block — it's the least we can do.

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