New Westminster wants to be a place where people feel safe accessing city programs and services – regardless of their immigration status.
On Monday, council endorsed the City of New Westminster Sanctuary City Policy: Access to City Facilities, Programs and Services for all Community Members. Council also directed staff to include $5,000 in the 2022 budget process for implementation of the policy within the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Anti-Racism (DEIAR) framework that’s currently being developed.
Claudia Freire, the city’s housing social planner, said the intent of the policy is to support New Westminster community members with uncertain, precarious, undocumented refugee or no immigration status, so they can access city facilities programs and services with the knowledge the City of New Westminster will not ask for information about their immigration status and will not provide information about any individuals’ immigration status to other institutions or orders of government. The policy is intended to guide the actions of elected officials, city staff, volunteers, and contractors and consultants.
Mayor Jonathan Cote said a Sanctuary City policy connects well to the values of the community. He said it will help people to access important city services.
“I think this policy is really going to remove that barrier and make sure everyone in the City of New Westminster can connect and deal with all the programs and work we do, whether that’s parks and recreation or whether it’s emergency services,” he said. “I wholeheartedly support this and appreciate all the work and effort that’s been put into this policy works.”
According to the staff report, in 2016, one in every three residents were immigrants, with about 10% of those being refugees. Sanctuary City policies are sometimes referred to “access without fear” or “don’t ask/don’t tell” policies.
“This is an act of compassion by a city that is known for such things,” said Coun. Jaimie McEvoy. “Nobody should ever be afraid that if they call the police their immigration status might end up being examined, or the fire department. No one should be denied a city service because they don’t have a local driver’s licence.”
McEvoy said he has no idea how many people in New Westminster would be impacted by the policy.
“What I do know is people need city services,” he said. “This is a way to make sure the services that we take such pride in delivering to our citizens, these services are available for everybody in this city.”
According to Freire, the New Westminster Police Department is committed to ensuring community safety in New Westminster, which includes access to services for witnesses or victims requiring police assistance, including persons with no immigration status. She noted the NWPD will develop an independent policy, which will be approved by the police board.
In January 2019, council supported a motion by Coun Chinu Das to direct staff to do a report on the feasibility of making New Westminster a Sanctuary City.
At Monday’s meeting, Das said it’s timely that it’s coming forward now because other “pieces of the puzzle” are also taking shape, including a Welcome Centre and the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Anti-Racism framework. She said the Sanctuary City policy speaks to the vision, priorities and values embraced by city council
“It is very important to have assurance from the police department that a mirror document will be coming forth soon,” she said. “For me, the two documents are the two sides of a coin. If one side is missing for too long, I feel like the effectiveness of that coin is lost; the value of that coin is lost.”
Cote, who chairs the police board, said the NWPD fully intends to have a complementary document done by the end of the year.
Chief Const. Dave Jansen said the police board has directed the NWPD to put together a policy and/or guidelines, which he expects to be presented to the board for its review and further direction in September or October.