Stay Relevant, Stay Real, Stay Radical
A Roundtable on the Solidarity City Movement in Canada
Four years ago, No One Is Illegal Toronto organizers reflected on Building a Sanctuary/Solidarity City in the pages of Upping the Anti issue 11. Since then, there have been victories and new efforts that bring momentum to the movement. On February 21, 2013, Toronto’s Solidarity City Network successfully pressured the City Council to adopt a motion ensuring access to city services for non-status (im)migrants without fear of detention or deportation. The motion effectively declared Toronto to be Canada’s first official Sanctuary City for non-status people. On February 12, 2014, the City of Hamilton passed a similar motion. The Montreal-based migrant justice network Solidarity Across Borders created a Solidarity City Declaration and mobilized community organizations, collectives, trade unions, and service providers from all sectors to endorse the declaration and support access to services for all. In Vancouver, community members and organizers have discussed how to build a Solidarity City most relevant to local contexts in Vancouver, as well as to the broader anti-colonial migrant justice struggles.
In light of the efforts being made across Canada to achieve Sanctuary/Solidarity Cities, this roundtable features women of colour who have been organizing in migrant justice struggles in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, and Hamilton to describe the next stages of the Sanctuary/Solidarity City campaigns. With critical assessments of these movements and the challenges faced, this roundtable addresses the struggle of grassroots mobilizing and changing state policy and its radical potential to mobilize.
Karin Baqi is a migrant justice organizer. She has been involved with No One is Illegal - Toronto and its Immigration Legal Committee since 2007.
Shireen Soofi is a grassroots community organizer and facilitator. She began anti-colonial migrant justice organizing in Montreal with Solidarity Across Borders in 2012 and with NOII-Vancouver, Unceded Coast Salish Territories and Sanctuary Health since 2013.
Amy Darwish and Rosalind Wong are Montreal based organizers who have been involved with Solidarity Across Borders (SAB) – Rosalind since 2009, and Amy since 2013. They are also members of the Shelters, Not Borders! committee of SAB, and the Awan Family Support Committee. They wish to note that, despite some consultation with current SAB organizers, their views are grounded in their own personal experiences and perceptions of the Solidarity City campaign during a particular timeframe
Khaoula Bengezi is a member of the Hamilton Sanctuary City Coalition. A graduate in Globalization and the Human Condition at McMaster University, she is passionate about migrant rights and justice and advocates for such issues.
Josee Oliphant is a member of the Hamilton Sanctuary City Coalition and an advocate for women’s rights and migrant justice.
Reflecting on your past and current migrant justice organizing, what are solidarity cities and why do you think we need to build them?
Karin (Toronto): Solidarity Cities are about building healthy, just, and sustainable communities where all people can shape and participate in decisions affecting their lives. They are not just about winning access to services for precarious non-status folks, but are about realizing social and economic justice for Indigenous communities, migrant communities, and other poor and working people.
Neoliberal economic policies and militarization around the world have produced the current scale of transnational migration and continue to unleash systematic violence against the world’s majority. For those that migrate across borders, the denial of access to social entitlements and labour and civic rights – coupled with intensified criminalization and threats of deportation from “host” countries like Canada – is integral to producing the vulnerable migrant labour force necessary to fulfill global capitalism’s insatiable profit making demands.
On a local level, Solidarity Cities are important because they reverse at least some of the policies that attack the Global South’s working classes. Greater numbers of people are unable to secure immigration status because of national policies that force them into lower paid, unregulated work. However, if we are successful in ensuring that people’s basic needs are met – such as health care, education, good jobs, food, and housing – we can start to underline the importance of immigration status to people’s daily lives.
Solidarity City is connected to broader migrant justice struggles because it highlights and confronts the violent and racist ways in which migrants are displaced, erased, and expelled. The campaign endeavors to fight the erasure of undocumented people, in part by winning material gains that can break the isolation of community members driven underground. It also forces institutions to be accountable to everyone, including those without status.
Shireen (Vancouver): At the core of Solidarity City is a community consisting of intentional relationships that instill mutual aid and support. Building these relationships of mutual aid between and within communities are often inherent acts of resistance, solidarity, and decolonization – acts which undermine the state’s selective granting of access (status, services, housing, etc.) to some people and not to others. It is important to recognize that this work comes from a legacy of community relationships that have been built and rebuilt over generations, particularly on the West Coast. In Vancouver’s unceded Coast Salish Territories, aspects of Solidarity City inform historic relationships between Indigenous and migrant communities, as well as organizing by non-migrant communities who were denied services.
There have been relationships of mutual support between many Indigenous communities and Chinese migrants, who were welcomed onto Native lands even before the implementation of Canada’s Head Tax. In turn, Chinese restaurants often welcomed Indigenous peoples at a time when de facto segregation was in place, and Indigenous groups were routinely excluded from other restaurants. We can also look to the story of the Komagata Maru when, in 1914, migrants on the steamship were denied entry into Canada. Vancouver’s South Asian community organized in their support and that story remains a powerful, historical example of resistance to oppression.
These stories of mutual aid, collective resistance and community building continue today in many shapes and forms. There are countless stories of community members supporting migrants with precarious status or no status at all, either by providing them with access to vital services and housing, or by assisting with acts of resistance to deportation.
In Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, many residents are homeless, undocumented, or Indigenous (with many not registered under the Indian Act). As a result, local community members have organized to demand access to necessary city services, such as harm reduction sites without requiring ID or proof of residence. The Downtown Eastside has been called a Social Justice Zone for more than 15 years, where food services and community centres offer minimal barriers to accessibility, and many transition homes and womens’ centres informally do not ask about status.
Amy and Rosalind (Montreal): When the Solidarity City campaign was launched in Montreal in February 2010, organizers with Solidarity Across Borders (SAB) addressed another dimension of the struggle against detention and deportations. In the face of recent austerity measures and the tightening of immigration controls, Solidarity City wanted to respond to the short-term realities while we fought for long-term goals. We asked, “In the meantime, what can be done to improve the daily living conditions of the thousands of non-status people who reside in our city? How can we support struggles for dignity and survival?”
Solidarity City responds to the current political reality and proposes an alternative to poverty, precariousness, and isolation. We are engaged in a long-term struggle to broad-based mobilizing as a strategy that goes beyond appealing to the state to adopt regularization. This involves working with organizations to open up access to services, but also with individuals and informal networks of solidarity to effectively render exclusionary state policies unenforceable. Organizing along anti-authoritarian principles, the campaign has taken shape through the creation of decentralized committees that target different sectors such as food, education, health, and shelters. It also works around issues of double punishment, where non-citizens who commit crimes face setbacks above and beyond their sentence within the penal system, often losing their permanent residency and thus facing deportation. The organizing committees involved conduct broad autonomous work and set their own agendas and mandates while upholding SAB’s main demands: an end to deportations, detentions, and double punishment, along with Status for All. It should be said that Solidarity City initiatives are not inherently anti-colonial: they all address demands to a settler state. On the other hand, they do directly challenge the capacity of the state to determine who belongs and who does not.
Although some Sanctuary City campaigns in the US and Canada have typically mobilized municipal governments to adopt city-wide “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policies, Montreal’s Solidarity City campaign has not, to date, moved in this direction for several reasons. While building on the conceptual frameworks of Access Without Fear (AWF) and the Right to a City, local organizers have built on pre-existing, informal mutual aid networks based on Québec and Montreal’s specific political context – a strong tradition of mass mobilization and extra-parliamentary organizing.
By prioritizing connections between frontline workers in various sectors and parallel mutual aid networks, Solidarity City and its various campaigns have brought new challenges and priorities to SAB’s overall organizing. In some ways, it has shifted mobilizing efforts to focus on service providers, and has welcomed an influx of academic, legal, health, and community professionals. Though these present certain challenges, they have also allowed Solidarity City to expand in tangible ways. By encouraging individuals, networks, and communities to challenge the institutional logic that asserts differential treatment and rights according to citizenship status, we can begin to undermine racist and exclusionary laws.
What does the Solidarity City organizing in your city look like?
Khaoula (Hamilton): On Wednesday, February 12, 2014, Hamilton was declared a Sanctuary City for undocumented people. In less than 9 months, we were able to successfully reach our goal of making Hamilton a home for all of its members. We were able to do so with guidance from No One is Illegal Toronto (NOII Toronto) and resources from other community organizations. Our coalition was comprised of a diverse group of dedicated individuals, including students from McMaster University, community activists, union members, and community organizations working on migrant rights. Our coalition collectively created a mission statement that emphasized our stance against Canada’s past and continued colonization both within Canada and abroad, solidarity with Canada’s Indigenous peoples, and equality among Canada’s residents, regardless of immigration status. We attempted to put the mission statements’ words into action by trying our best to make collective decisions and create a non-hierarchal, diverse, and positive environment. Our coalition showed how a diverse group of individuals can effectively strategize and construct a campaign to grant those most vulnerable some form of protection at the municipal level. We know that the city vote is only the first step to altering structures and institutions that ingrain fear of the “racialized other”, but we are hopeful that a post migrant future is possible.
Karin (Toronto): In February 2012, Toronto’s Solidarity City Network successfully pressured the City to reaffirm its commitment to ensure access of services to precarious/non-status migrants via a historic motion adopted by City Council. Though the network that mobilized for this motion didn’t form until November 2012, decades of organizing by diverse communities won the Sanctuary Policy. These included: access to public schools by undocumented kids dating back to the 1990s; the 2004 Don’t Ask Don’t Tell campaign; the 10 Demands for Action Against Poverty, involving a coalition of 23 community groups; and the Shelter Sanctuary Status campaign led by NOII, which barred Immigration Enforcement from entering women’s shelters and centres.
Currently, the network is pressuring City Hall to actually implement the motion, which involves training city staff, creating a complaints protocol, and developing a public education strategy. Yet real implementation would involve recognition of the violence inherent to immigration controls, as well as a destabilization of popular discourses around detention and deportation. It’s not much use to win a city policy if there is a threat – real or perceived – of a social worker calling immigration on you after a night’s stay at an “accessible” shelter.
Amy and Rosalind (Montreal): At present, committees vary greatly in terms of their composition, capacity, and tactics. In the case of the Education for All committee, this has ranged from presentations before the Montreal School Board, to monthly pickets demanding that children be granted immediate access to Montreal’s schools, to an occupation of the Minister of Education’s office, to supporting families in their attempts to have children enrolled at school. Conversely, both the health and shelters’ committees have consistently worked at a lower capacity, and have required a couple of years to determine a mandate and build membership. As Solidarity City moves forward with several ongoing campaigns, maintaining realistic expectations for each project will be key.
Shireen (Vancouver): Currently, a series of community meetings are taking place to decide what model, services, and organizing are necessary in Vancouver to build a Solidarity City. The meetings consist of mostly migrant community members from various experiences, backgrounds, legal status, and professions. Vancouver is home to fewer undocumented migrants than Toronto or Montreal, yet many migrants with precarious status (including temporary migrant workers) are denied services. We need to consider other factors as well, such as how migrant farm workers cannot access many services due to the isolation of farm sites that are far from city centres and transportation services. We also need to consider many migrant communities residing in the suburbs, which means a Solidarity City may not be as effective in the city of Vancouver proper. It is crucial to build a Solidarity City that is relevant and contextual, recognizing that it will likely look different in every city.
One of the key concerns with Access to Services campaigns is that they either draw all our energies into bureaucratic fights, or become paper policies that don’t improve people’s experiences. What can we do at the grassroots level to make sure Solidarity Cities further all of our goals?
Shireen (Vancouver): To avoid focusing mostly on state policy, we need to stay connected to the historical and contemporary community organizing led by impacted communities. Organizing for access to services cannot stand alone. Rather, it must be integrated with a focus on eliminating migrant detentions and deportations. Immigration enforcement is heightening: the numbers of Canadian Boarder Services Agency (CBSA) vans are increasing, detentions are lengthening, and deportations are more frequent. It is necessary to focus on increasing access to services and stopping detentions and deportations. In order to encourage service providers and city councillors to sign on to a declaration and honestly demand a stop to the dehumanizing treatment of migrants, we must build intentional relationships and alliances that go deeper than policy. These strategic alliances are the first steps to fighting the dehumanizing discourse about good versus bad migrants and fostering the collective belief that all people deserve self-determination. Furthermore, these alliances will build a network of people we may call upon to resist deportation and demand regularization. Creating true sanctuary zones in neighbourhoods and in the streets will likely occur through a variety of strategies including policies that fight anti-migrant discourse and criminalization. Such a space also relies on a unified resistance grounded in intentional alliances, relationships, and decolonization, by acknowledging the Indigenous lands on which Solidarity Cities are built and supporting Indigenous sovereignty against the illegal colonial state.
Karin (Toronto): The foremost danger isn’t the burnout and disillusionment that comes from winning mere “theoretical” policies, but more critically, the reality that it means we are not being accountable to 1) communities directly impacted by the war on migrants and 2) a politics that actually subverts existing power relations.
Certainly this is a pitfall that I have seen first-hand. You can spend a lot of energy on “community consultations” that involve very few communities, or plan activities that privilege professionalized forms of engagement. This is not to say there is no value in, say, lobbying city councillors to expand access to city services, or engaging in “policy-making” talks with nonprofit organizations. Sometimes it makes good strategic sense to do so, as services delivered by the state (or by the Nonprofit Industrial Complex) can have very material impacts on people’s lives.
It is a problem when all (or too much) of our energy is spent on such activities, as opposed to them being secondary to efforts of mobilization. So in order for Solidarity Cities to work, we can’t just be frantically responding to every action a city or institution makes, but must pause to reflect on an actual strategy, and reorient ourselves and our tactics accordingly. That way, we disrupt existing service provision paradigms and actually work to end immigration enforcement – both literally, through non-cooperation with immigration officials, and figuratively, by avoiding judgements about who is (un)deserving of services because of status.
More tangibly, within the context of Access to Services campaigns, I can think of four things we can do (or do better) at the grassroots level to make Solidarity Cities responsive to liberatory goals:
1. Continuously build leadership of new and different people, particularly directly affected people, so that more people actually feel invested in the organizing, and to ensure a groundswell of folks to hold services accountable.
2. Developing literacy through grassroots materials
development. I think the importance of this is often understated. By “materials development” I don’t just mean flyers, videos, etc. I am also referring to how we talk about access to services for precarious/non-status folks and why it is important. The fight for access to services isn’t about appealing to humanitarian ideals of charity, but about making demands towards social and economic justice.
3. Improving information, skills, resources, and contact-sharing within and across movements. We need to build organizing cultures in which everyone involved feels confident to advocate for services, and to call out institutional and social tolerance for racism and classism. This would certainly help in building support for access to services for non-status folks throughout the country – especially as similar campaigns spring up in different cities. This also means creating space for people to sometimes say the “wrong” thing, to make mistakes while still feeling supported.
4. Also somewhere in there, let’s not forget to have some fun! I really think we can win.
Khaoula and Josee (Hamilton): Making Hamilton a Sanctuary City goes beyond the unanimous vote that took place in City Council. What must occur now is the coalition must make sure the city follows through with the recommendations made within the report. For the coalition, this means monitoring what the city agreed to do and guaranteeing that an “Access without Fear” (AWF) policy is understood by frontline city staff. Given that there is little to no funding available for the project, it might be put on the backburner by the city. However, by taking a proactive role, the coalition may be able to ensure that a Sanctuary City is implemented in action not just in words, by checking in to make sure training is being provided to city staff and implemented on the ground.
Another obstacle that the project faces is that although undocumented residents are now able to access a variety of municipal services without fear, many essential services remain inaccessible – access to emergency care, schooling, housing, and financial assistance are all within the jurisdiction of the province. This may lead to confusion among undocumented residents as to what services they are able to access, which may lead many to abstain from seeking services at all. Or they may seek services outside those provided by the province and put themselves in danger of deportation and detention. However, if cities in Ontario continue to pass Sanctuary City and AWF policies, this political shift could potentially create the basis of mobilization for policy changes at the provincial level.
Sanctuary City coalitions and movements all across Canada must take on the task of educating undocumented residents on the services they are free to seek without fear. Moreover, Solidarity networks all over Canada must join forces and campaign for provincial AWF policies, thereby ensuring that Ontario’s undocumented residences can easily access basic essential services like emergency care, housing, financial aid, and schooling.
Amy and Rosalind (Montreal): Given the way in which the Solidarity City campaign has evolved in Montreal, dealings with bureaucracy have tended to absorb comparatively less energy. In instances where we do engage with levels of government – as in the Education for All campaign – we strive to ensure that our organizing remains accountable to affected communities and rooted in grassroots resistance.
In many respects, engaging with bureaucracies and grassroots organizing is not necessarily contradictory. Whether fighting to have municipal legislation passed, or provincial access to services granted, such initiatives rely upon grassroots mobilizing to gather momentum. Conversely, by organizing assemblies with shelter workers or holding a demonstration outside a school board meeting, grassroots actions invariably involve negotiating layers of bureaucracy at some level.
One way in which this unfolds is through our efforts to foster community non-collaboration with border enforcement. Over the past two years, we have been in ongoing discussions to encourage community groups to open services to all, regardless of status, and to refuse all co-operation with border enforcement agencies, including banning them from their premises. As a symbolic step to this end, we have asked groups to endorse a Solidarity City declaration, which was launched in February 2013.
Despite the initial endorsement of over 50 organizations, translating on-paper signatures into on-the-ground support has been marked by setbacks and challenges. The context in which the community sector operates in Québec is marked by aggressive cuts to services. This has given rise to some reluctance on the part of some community organizations to adopt positions they fear could jeopardize funding. At the same time, engagement with community groups has promoted greater reflection on the ways in which experiences of immigration and questions of status pose barriers to the accessing of services. In some instances, declaration signatories have become involved in broader migrant justice organizing, culminating in actions like the Status for All march. In other instances, where certain organizations, directors, and boards are resistant to revising their practices, individual frontline workers have proven to be precious allies, either by putting direct pressure on their own organizations or creating spaces that are accessible to people traditionally outside of their organization’s mandate.
Solidarity City has, in many ways, been grounded in support work. At present, support work tends to operate transversally and takes different forms in different committees. These committees work closely with the Solidarity Across Borders support committee to coordinate specific requests like navigating school enrollment, finding food banks, or mapping shelter spaces. More recently, the Shelters, Not Borders! committee has actively promoted greater participation from violence survivors with precarious status and those with lived experience navigating the shelter system. This has involved restructuring our meetings in ways that make them more accessible to people in precarious situations. This involves offering transportation, selecting spaces that are comfortable for babies and small children, providing food at meetings, preparing notes beforehand, and being mindful of meeting lengths.
We have also worked to support and strengthen parallel mutual aid networks. For example, the Food for All committee has organized community meals to provide a venue whereby food can be shared and those living underground can break out of their isolation. In collaboration with the People’s Potato, a student-run food justice collective, the committee has also launched a food basket delivery project in recent months. Over the long term, we will work to strengthen the capacity of such networks to respond to the needs of community members, while challenging and circumventing institutional policies that exclude them.
Like many other movements, the Solidarity City campaigns are pulled between lobbying for policy changes and grassroots organizing that is intimately connected to people’s daily struggles. Without policy change, things don’t necessarily change for many in our communities; and without grassroots organizing, policy only sits on paper and the changes are superficial.
Reflecting on the model of the Solidarity City project in your local context and comparing them with the strategies outlined by organizers in other cities, what are some strengths and weaknesses of this particular model of your city? In what ways do you think your city will move forward or adjust its course?
Amy and Rosalind (Montreal): The responses of other organizers in this roundtable have left us with many points for self-reflection. For one, we are struck by how differently Solidarity City organizing is structured in other cities. In particular, Hamilton’s experiences have stood out in the sense that its campaign was carried out by one cohesive coalition that worked steadily towards a single objective – in this case, the adoption of AWF legislation by their municipal governments and the opening of services to all residents, irrespective of immigration status. Despite having a framework of overarching Solidarity City objectives and principles, it is hard to speak to a unitary set of goals and tactics in the Montreal context. Rather, separate committees – namely, “Education for All”, “Food for All”, “Health for All”, and “Shelters, Not Borders!” – have developed their own approaches, based on the interests of their members, their own particular histories, and the realities, opportunities, and challenges specific to the sector that each engages with. For instance, the “Shelters, Not Borders!” committee has worked to map services, while Food for All centers its activities on direct support and challenging traditional models of service provision. This sometimes makes these efforts seem less cohesive, and their impacts more modest. Though our work is sometimes slow and incremental, it has allowed us to build a broader base of support. It has also led to an influx of new members, who we hope will generate what Karin refers to as a “groundswell” – one that can hold institutions accountable while building on mutual aid networks, and acting as a safeguard against the erosion of hard-fought gains.
Currently, the Solidarity City campaign finds itself in a visioning phase. Several committees seem to have reached a crossroads and are in the process of charting next steps. Moving forward, we relate to Khaoula and Karin’s emphasis that securing endorsements are but a first step and that consistent follow up – be it with municipal governments or with Solidarity City declaration signatories – is necessary to ensure that resolutions translate into real commitments. In Montreal, we must similarly prioritize working with these signatories, so that they begin to structurally and substantially address the barriers that exist within their organizations surrounding service access for non-status people.
We also draw inspiration from Shireen’s account of solidarity and mutual aid between immigrant and Indigenous communities in Vancouver. Specifically, we hope to build stronger relationships with Indigenous communities to integrate anti-colonial organizing into our work in a non-tokenizing way. This includes expanding self-education, being more present at Indigenous events, creating spaces on our website to highlight Indigenous struggles, and examining our capacity to visit different communities. Above all, we hope to carry out this work in a way that is structural, intentional, and connected to the groundwork of each committee. Elsewhere, Shireen’s discussion of sanctuary zones has led us to ponder the possibilities of building upon the neighbourhood organizing that took place in the lead up to last year’s Status for All March.
Shireen (Vancouver): An organizing campaign focused specifically on creating a Solidarity City was initiated only in the past year by the Sanctuary Health collective, which is made up of predominantly folks of colour who are directly connected with undocumented and precarious status migrants. Sanctuary Health is creating a space to facilitate conversations with members from different communities in order to hear about histories of resistance, current service and support needs, and initiatives taking place that will shape our Solidarity City movement. We have held community meetings with close allies to hear about interests and expectations, the values and characteristics a Sanctuary City should be built on, the sectors affected, and the strategies that could be implemented. We are still connecting with members of different communities. We hope to utilize the conversations to create and present a possible framework for a Solidarity City campaign at a larger meeting, ideally attended by members of all the communities involved.
Our vision is for many different communities to “own” and carry out the Solidarity City campaign collectively. This is definitely a long-term struggle and forms part of a larger migrant justice movement.
Adopting this model for our campaign has both its strengths and weaknesses. By reaching out and engaging with many individuals and groups who are connected to the struggle, we are hoping that the campaign will be rooted in many communities and relevant to them, which would allow the campaign to sustain itself in the long-term. However, this model has also resulted in many delays as we consult and re-evaluate our trajectory based on every meeting we have with community members. We are approached by participants after each meeting who are eager to immediately participate in an active campaign rather than be consulted, as it risks losing the momentum, interest and trust of those who continue to attend meetings with an expectation of immediate plans for action. Finally, in these early stages, we are continuing to be flexible with the process and are figuring out how to engage pre-existing organizing and impacted communities in a genuine way, while honouring various levels of engagement in the Solidarity City campaign by community members.
Karin (Toronto): One of the strengths of the current Toronto model is that it is based on a long history of local Access to Services campaigns, from which we have drawn allies and lessons. While some of this organizing (like the Access to Education campaigns of the 1990’s mentioned earlier) predates NOII Toronto, for most of the last decade NOII Toronto itself has launched several sector-specific campaigns under the AWF banner (e.g. Education not Deportation, Shelter Sanctuary Status, Food for All, and Health for All). Central to all of these campaigns has been connecting service provision and social entitlements to broader demands for status for all, meaning access, justice, and dignity.
While different campaigns have had varying levels of success, I think because they have been rooted in an anti-colonial and anti-racist analysis they have resonated with a lot of people. Ultimately that has played a role in shifting local discourses and in raising expectations of what all people deserve. Furthermore, the visibility of a lot of the AWF organizing: especially as campaigns took to the streets, launched public interventions, and called large community meetings, also helped build momentum across movements and solidified relationships with allies. After all, today the Solidarity City Network is made up of a diverse set of groups working for migrant justice, economic justice, workers’ rights, health equity, and more.
However, at the same time, I think the Solidarity City campaign could improve in its base-building work. Since the adoption of the motion in February, a lot of people, especially service providers across sectors, are under the impression that the policy automatically equals real change. Meanwhile, on the ground, many people have learned firsthand the most dehumanizing lessons of bureaucracy and how it operates. Consider, for instance, the family of Rogerio Marques De Souz who were denied a funeral subsidy to bury their loved one, a non-status resident of Toronto, for twenty-five years. The campaign needs to be rallying all people to be outraged at stories like these.
We could also integrate more deliberate analysis into our municipal efforts. This involves making a direct link between capitalist expansion and the denial of services based on citizenship status (i.e. ensuring a highly precarious and exploitable labour pool). We also need to broadly integrate other critical issues, such as vastly growing income inequality and ghettoization of Toronto, as well as the police harassment experienced disproportionately by Indigenous, racialized, and/or homeless folks.
Khaoula and Josee (Hamilton): Reflecting on the experiences of Solidarity City organizers across different cities, it seems that the Hamilton Sanctuary City Coalition is facing a double-edged sword. We have been organizing since May 2013 and Hamilton has been declared Canada’s second Sanctuary City in less than a year. While this is a monumental accomplishment in such a short span of time, it also has some drawbacks.
A key issue that the Hamilton Sanctuary City Coalition has and continues to face is its affiliation with a local community organization (who we prefer not to name). This community organization initiated the campaign to make Hamilton a Sanctuary City by hiring both of us to work alongside them to establish the coalition. Without this community organization, the pace at which we would organized and lobbied the city would have been much slower. At the start of the campaign, the three of us did the work and the coalition was only debriefed every three weeks. We were concerned about this because we did not utilize a non-hierarchal way of organizing. This is very different from other Solidarity Cities, which were led by grassroots activist organizers as opposed to an established community organization. Solidarity Cities like Montreal and Toronto may work with other organizations, but their movement was not initiated by one organization. Therefore, they may not face the same type of organizational issues that the Hamilton Sanctuary City Coalition does. However, the Hamilton Sanctuary City Coalition is slowly progressing toward a more grassroots model and is attempting to restructure its way of organizing.
A good rapport between the coalition and the city of Hamilton has been one of the advantages of our campaign. We had a city councilor on our side and city researchers who supported our project. Moreover, we were able to successfully gain the support of over 14 organizations that provide services for newcomers. We were given the opportunity to interview the staff working at these organizations and hear the stories and experiences of their undocumented clients.