Sanctuary city status sparks heated debate at London City Hall

London City Hall as seen June 14, 2017 (Matthew Trevithick/980 CFPL). Matthew Trevithick/980 CFPL File

Emotions ran high at London City Hall Monday night as city councillors discussed whether or not to make London a sanctuary city.

City politicians at the strategic priorities and policy committee debated how they should proceed on the issue.

Ward 13 Coun. Tanya Park first raised the issue 14 months ago as a response to U.S. President Donald Trump’s travel ban on people from Syria, Iran, Sudan, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Somalia.

A report going before city councillors said many in the community who provided feedback consider the term “sanctuary city” to be divisive.

Park says she’s not convinced the term is what’s dividing Londoners.

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“The fact that two words are the scapegoats for a divide in this community just astounds me. Sanctuary cities did not create a divide in this community, it was here a long time before any of us was even born.”

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Ward 1 Coun. Michael van Holst says he doesn’t support becoming a sanctuary city.

“This just destroys political capital and makes people angry at each other, and those are the kinds of things we should avoid,” said van Holst.

“It’s a very divisive thing, and politics and getting things done in cities is really about agreement. Once we can get people to agree then we move forward.”

Van Holst also called the motion “poor leadership” and “reactionary.”

His arguments upset Ward 4 Coun. Jesse Helmer who pushed to make London a sanctuary city.

“I think some of the arguments I’m hearing from my colleague Coun. van Holst are really, really bad arguments, and I need to express that to him because I think, and I hope, that he will look back on some of the things he said and he will realize that himself,” said Helmer.

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“I’m not in politics to agree with everybody, I’m not in politics to try and find agreement among a whole bunch of people, I’m in politics because I want to do the right thing.”

A sanctuary city delivers services to people without requiring proof of immigration status, which is something Helmer strongly believes in.

“I do not want to live in a world, or a city, where we are checking people’s immigration status to provide basic services like clean water, or an ambulance, or a fire department.”

Ultimately the committee voted 8-2 in favour of referring the issue back to staff for more information on the cost and options for moving ahead with a sanctuary city designation.

It’s possible London could take aspects of a sanctuary city without declaring itself one.

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