The first few months of 2017 have been politically charged in London – for better and for worse.
On January 21st, roughly 1,000 people gathered at Victoria Park to show support for the Women’s March in Washington. On Feb. 5, it was a more somber tone. Londoners joined together to rally against Islamophobia following a deadly shooting at a Quebec mosque Jan. 29.
The message was one of hope, love, and unity in uncertain times. US President Donald Trump’s Muslim ban has sparked an influx of refugees from the United States into Canada – often in brutal winter weather.
London City Council, meanwhile, is accepting US refugees with open arms.
Compassion and confusion
Council voted unanimously to make London a sanctuary city for those fleeing or exiled from America. London residents, however, had serious misgivings at a community consultation Feb. 23 at Goodwill Industries.
The No One Is Illegal Organization took to facebook to urge Londoners to join the push to become a sanctuary city. Much like the protests at Victoria Park, the message of compassion and unity were common themes.
However, the topic of unity ended up fueling disagreement among those in attendance. Not long into the consultation, it was clear that City Council wasn’t prepared to meet with strong opposition to their open-ended stance.
Questions from the get-go
Hands were already in the air when manager of strategic programs and partnerships, Jill Tansley, began her presentation called Sanctuary City – Access without fear to municipal services for Undocumented Individuals.
Initially, most of the questions raised were against the proposal, creating an uncomfortable atmosphere in the room.
People voiced concerns about their taxes and the unfairness of undocumented people using city’s resources. Many wanted clarification on the differences between refugees, illegal immigrants and economic immigrants.
An us-versus-them scenario ensued, with people from both sides speaking emotionally, often times shouting over each other. Tansley was only able to resume her presentation when an attendee suggested people waited until after to ask questions.
Overconfident and unprepared
While they set out to inform and consult community members, council failed to explain what becoming a sanctuary city might mean. Many of the questions went unanswered, as they were outside of City Council’s jurisdiction.
London Police Services were visibly absent. Residents looking for answers on how the LPS would handle undocumented immigrants went home with no new information.
Similarly, no one from the federal government was present. Questions about Canada’s policy regarding sanctuary cities were met with “we don’t know.”
Rather, the city’s biggest contribution to the event wasn’t an answer, but a question:
“Are there any other services that should be offered that are not currently offered to undocumented individuals? If so, what would they be?”
Those in favour suggested a good starting point would be to allow refugees use of London Public Library computers without needing identification.
A moot point?
Council reps told the crowd that even though the proposal was a rush job, it was likely to be approved.
However, their failure to define the proposal, hear concerns, and dispel misinformation led to a free for all. The evening proved how much backlash can come from policy that is rolled out without proper consultation from city residents.
If London does become a sanctuary city, anti-immigrant rhetoric must be addressed first. According to the last census by the National Household Survey (NHS), immigrants make up 21.2% of London’s population.
Hopefully, the shock City Council members felt at people’s anger and confusion will spur them to address their concerns.
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Feature photo by John Ulaszek