Councillor takes action for refugees

One Victoria councillor is pushing for Victoria to become a sanctuary city for undocumented immigrants in Canada.

One Victoria councillor is pushing for Victoria to become a sanctuary city for undocumented immigrants in Canada.

For the last six months, Coun. Jeremy Loveday has been having discussions with leaders from the Victoria Immigration and Refugee Centre and the organizer of World Refugee Day about Victoria becoming Canada’s next sanctuary city, behind Toronto and Hamilton.

In a sanctuary city, municipal employees don’t enforce federal immigration laws, usually by not allowing police or municipal employees to inquire about an individual’s immigration status.

“With increased focus on immigrant and refugee issues because of the tragic nature of the Syrian refugee crisis, people in Canada and people in Victoria are talking about refugee issues in a way that I haven’t seen in a long time,” Loveday said. “I think there’s a desire to take action at a local level. Becoming a sanctuary city is one concrete thing that Victoria can do.”

The call for action comes in response to a shocking photo of the body of three-year-old Alan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish beach. The boat that his mother, father and brother — all Syrian refugees —were taking to Greece from Turkey sank. Only his father survived.

“Like most people, it was heartbreaking, especially when it hit home a lot for many Canadians when we saw the connections to Canada,” said Loveday, adding based on preliminary talks, there has been support in the community for Victoria becoming a sanctuary city.

David Lau, executive director of the Victoria Immigration and Refugee Centre, said the action would make Victoria more welcoming to newcomers and refugees.

“It’s a very strong statement of support for people who choose Victoria as the city they want to live in,” he said, adding it is not an endorsement for people who don’t get their paperwork in on time or ignore the laws of the Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

Earlier this month, roughly 200 people marched from the Tourism Information Centre in the Inner Harbour to Centennial Square in support of opening Canada’s borders to Syrian refugees as well.

Loveday hopes to get discussions going again and rally support from council to declare Victoria a sanctuary city.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson is also pushing to become a sanctuary city.