News / Vancouver

City of Vancouver passes ‘access without fear’ policy

The City of Vancouver passed a policy to provide access to city services without fear to people with uncertain immigration status.

Protesters bring a box full of 7,500 signatures, all calling for an inquiry into the death of Mexican woman Lucia Vega Jimenez, to the Canada Border Services Agency's Vancouver office Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014.

Matt Kieltyka/Metro

Protesters bring a box full of 7,500 signatures, all calling for an inquiry into the death of Mexican woman Lucia Vega Jimenez, to the Canada Border Services Agency's Vancouver office Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014.

City of Vancouver councillors unanimously approved a policy to provide people with uncertain immigration status access to services without fear that employees will share their information with public agencies that could deport them.

The policy will allow vulnerable residents, whether they’re foreign students or workers with expired permits, refugees whose claims were rejected or temporary foreign workers who lost their jobs, to interact with civil servants without being afraid they’ll get reported to the Canada Border Services Agency, unless required by law.

“This policy at its root is about safety,” B.C. Civil Liberties Association director Josh Paterson told council in support of the policy.

“It’s about a woman being able to come forward and seek help in a situation of domestic abuse, it’s about a family not being afraid to call a building inspector because of the conditions of their apartment, it’s about making sure children that live in this city have the right to access programs and services on an equal basis.”

The approval comes more than two years after Lucia Vega Jiminez, a Mexican woman living in Vancouver who had her refugee claim rejected, died by suicide while in CBSA custody. She was detained after Transit Police handed her over to the CBSA after discovering her identity during a routine fare check. 

Shortly thereafter, the city started exploring becoming a “sanctuary city.” The final policy, which involved consultation with 100 people, dropped the term “sanctuary” since it’s a bit misleading because municipalities do not have the jurisdiction to offer actual sanctuary to people without status.

The policy would not necessarily have prevented Jiminez’s death, as it does not apply to transit police. Nor does it apply to Vancouver’s police department, the park board or the library.  

But Mayor Gregor Robertson promised to take it up with the Vancouver Police Board and said it’s a good step to ensuring the city is safe for everyone.

Vancouver Coastal Health’s executive director of population health Juan Solorzano agreed the policy is a step in the right direction, saying it shows leadership in advocating for people with uncertain status.

“It helps address some concerns about fear of prosecution and sense of belonging in the community… these things contribute to health,” Solorzano said.

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