KITCHENER — A new City of Kitchener policy will ensure residents with uncertain or no immigration status can still access municipal services without fear of reprisals.
The new Access Without Fear policy was approved unanimously by council this week.
Stemming from a motion introduced by Coun. Christine Michaud earlier this year, Kitchener’s policy is similar to those adopted in other Canadian municipalities.
The policy states that Kitchener residents with uncertain or no immigration status can fully access city services — everything from community centre programming for children and adults to applying for marriage licences or building permits — without worrying that the city will ask for or provide their immigration status to other levels of government.
Rawan Hussein, a member of the city’s Safe & Healthy Community advisory committee that developed the policy, told councillors there are an estimated 200,000 to 500,000 “non-status migrants” living in Canada.
These are often people who enter Canada through authorized channels, including refugee claimants or people with valid student, temporary foreign worker or visitor visas. However, their status can change if permits expire, a refugee claim is denied, or a sponsorship dissolves.
“The situation can become extremely perilous when they lose status,” Hussein said. An Access Without Fear policy allows people to access municipal services without fear of deportation or reporting to federal authorities.
Such policies help to provide some stability, increase access to important health and social services and decrease social isolation, Hussein said.
Kitchener doesn’t currently ascertain a person’s immigration status when they use city services, and the new policy makes it clear that city staff or direct volunteers are not to ask for or seek out that status.
If that information is disclosed voluntarily, the city won’t document or share it. Instead, staff could help point those with uncertain immigration status to other supports in the community.
The policy notes that the federal government “has jurisdiction over immigration policies and regulations including law enforcement activities related to border management and immigration control.”
The policy doesn’t apply to municipal and school board elections, which require proof of citizenship to vote or run for office.
Implementation of the policy will include mandatory staff training and a public awareness campaign.
“This hits home for me, because there was a point in my life over a decade-plus ago where I was out of status in another country, and you cannot imagine the pain, and the frustration, and the hiding, and the hoping you’re not discovered,” said Coun. Ayo Owodunni.
“I’ve been in this situation before, and I know exactly how it feels.”
Kitchener and Waterloo Region as a whole remain one of the top destinations for newcomers to Canada, noted Mayor Berry Vrbanovic.
Having a policy such as this in place demonstrates “that we as a city are a caring and compassionate community,” he said.