February 28, 2017 8:28 pm
Updated: March 1, 2017 7:34 am

Group seeks to have Saskatoon declared sanctuary city

WATCH: Global's Meaghan Craig looks at the impact it would have on undocumented residents.

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Toronto was the first city to lead the charge. In 2013, it declared itself a sanctuary city and since then at least three others have followed suit.

A group is now wanting Saskatoon to do the same and offer access to city services to undocumented refugees.

“We want go a little bit past the typically symbolic gesture,” Jamal Tekleweld, spokesperson for Sanctuary Saskatoon Alliance, said on Tuesday.

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“We want to make sure there’s tangible benefits in place, tangible policies in place as well as a wide host of services that may be accessed by these individuals.”

READ MORE: No reports of refugees crossing into province outside of official border points: Sask. RCMP

More importantly, access to local services for non-status immigrants without fear, including help from police when needed.

“This would be business as usual for us,” Saskatoon Police Service Chief Clive Weighill said.

“As a municipal agency we don’t tend to be checking people for their immigration status that’s a federal mandate through immigration or RCMP.”

That’s not to say police wouldn’t though. A person’s legal status in Canada would come into question if they’re were charged with an offence.

“If they’re charged with an offence and they’re arrested then we would want to make sure that they’re going to appear in court and then do the necessary checks to see if they’re legally in Canada.”

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In many parts of the country, RCMP are the ones that have their hands full.

In January alone, the law enforcement agency reported 452 asylum claims at the border in Quebec – that’s more than three times the number the year before.

“A lot of the misunderstanding with asylum seekers or refugee claimants is that once they enter the country that they are automatically granted status as a refugee which is not the case,” Sharon Se Jung An, an immigration lawyer with Miller Thomson LLP in Vancouver, said.

READ MORE: Canada braces for spring surge of asylum seekers

She stressed that undocumented refugees who do not enter the country at a designated point of entry are still subject to the same process as anyone who has already filed a refugee claim inland or outside of Canada.

Which is why she argues that they’re not necessarily “jumping the line” by crossing jumping the border.

“We don’t buy into the idea of illegal alien so to speak, we think that we’re all people and we should be treated equitable and respectfully and with dignity,” Tekleweld said.

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The Sanctuary Saskatoon Alliance is now aiming to present a resolution to city council in March to become a safe haven for undocumented refugees.

Tekleweld said that timeline though will very much depend on public buy-in and the amount of hours the team can dedicated to the cause between now and then.

“We want to talk with people, all people in Saskatoon and garner their concerns,” he said.

“It’s going to be a long process but we think it’s worth it because if we don’t become a sanctuary city that we all can get behind then we’re going to have some issues down the road.”

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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