On July 31, City Council considered the Access Without Fear motion I co-authored with community groups. Here's what happened and next steps.
After months of research, community consultation, and dialogue between Access Without Fear organizers and Council members, the motion was finally before Council for debate. Before a packed Henry Baker Hall, a dozen delegates spoke of the need for this motion, and for Regina to formally become an Access Without Fear City. Over twenty organizations and community leaders in the City endorsed the initiative (see below). Medical professionals, anti-racist activists, union members, educators, refugees, the director of UR International, and others bravely took to the podium to share their experiences. Many council members interacted and asked questions. There is no question that the concerns were taken seriously by the Mayor, Councillors, and City Administration. [For news coverage, see Global News reporting.]
When the motion was formally introduced and seconded, I offered some remarks. A few Councillors expressed concern with the title, "Access Without Fear". No one offered to amend or reword the language. After some discussion a referral motion was put on the table. The motion read:
The Sanctuary Cities/Access Without Fear motion and all delegations’ comments, be referred to those orders of government responsible for immigration and refugee settlement services for follow-up and response; namely, the federal minister of immigration, the provincial minister of immigration, including the Honourable Ralph Goodale, FCM and SUMA.
Referral motions are voted on and need a majority to pass, but no discussion is permitted. It also kills the initial motion. I opposed this because it simply side stepped the issue and kicked the problem down the road. This would have been possible with my motion, and was inferred in the language. Minister Goodale worked tirelessly to help prevent the deportation of two international students - one of who addressed Council - years ago, and is already very much familiar with the situation. He's also aware that over 6,000 foreigners await trial in Canadian prisons, so the plight of newcomers and undocumented residents isn't novel for him. Still, I believe in the spirit of the language here, just not the process.
Secondly, Administration was tasked with an "undertaking". Specifically, to look at current practices and address the reality that some residents fear accessing City services. Believe me that City management is taking these concerns seriously. My problem is that the undertaking is less systematic that the approach my motion required. It also lacked the type of guidance and leadership that an Access Without Fear policy and title would have offered. Nor am I convinced that the $50,000 - $200,000 that was floated price tag was accurate (side note: we agreed to spend over $2 million that evening on other projects).
Third, the clause in the motion related to the Regina Police Service was ruled out of order. I respectfully disagree with this conclusion, as the motion did not mandate change, but instead signalled to the Board of Police Commissioners that the RPS should continue its practice of not asking for status documentation. Basically, endorsing status quo.
And so here we are. What next?
Don't give up! Know that the motion, the movement, the public engagement, the delegates, the endorsements, and the outreach made an impact.
Get involved! Write to your Council and write to the City asking to be kept informed about what steps city hall will be taking to be more inclusive and more accessible. The City is full of exceptional staff who take community engagement seriously. The Community Service Department is particularly equipped to take this on. Ask to be part of future conversations and changes. Also, reach out to the RPS to see what work they are doing on this front.
Keep up with the civic engagement! Come to Council. Ask us directly what's being done. Be part of other civic issues and conversation.s
Know that you have friends on Council who take the concerns of newcomers, especially newcomers with precarious status, seriously.
Let's continue to work on this together.
List of Endorsers of Access Without Fear City motion as of July 31.
Amnesty International - Regina
East Side United Church
Ethiopian Refugee Support Group
Grace Mennonite Church of Regina
Heritage Community Association
Knox-Metropolitan United Church
Kowalchuk Law Office
Making Peace Vigil
Multicultural Council of Saskatchewan
Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry
Regina Anti-Poverty Network
Regina & District Labour Council
Regina Professional Fire Fighters Association Local 181
Regina Public Interest Research Group
Retail Wholesale Department Store Union - Saskatchewan
Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Regina
Saskatchewan Association of Somali Canadians
Saskatchewan Association On Human Rights
Saskatchewan Federation of Labour - Workers of Colour Committee
Spring Free From Racism
St. James United Church Council
South Sudanese Canadian Association
Unifor Local 1S
University of Regina Students Union
UR Muslim Students Association
UR Pride Centre for Sexuality and Gender Diversity
Dr. Faycal Haggui
Jefferson Thomas Norman
Dr. John Meeham (President of Campion College)
Dr. Vianne Timmons (President of the University of Regina)
Dr. Miguel Sanchez (Faculty of Social Work)
Dr. Sally Mahood, M.D, C.C.F.P (Family Medicine Unit)
Dr. Jennifer Kuzmicz, M.D, C.C.F.P (Family Medicine Unit)
Dr. Thanh Luu, M.D, C.C.F.P (Family Medicine Unit)
Dr. Sarah Liskowich, M.D, C.C.F.P (Family Medicine Unit)
Dr. Sylvie Jones, M.D, C.C.F.P (Family Medicine Unit)
Dr. Megan Clark, M.D, C.C.F.P (Family Medicine Unit)
Dr. Andrea Vasquez, M.D, C.C.F.P (Family Medicine Unit)
Dr. Barb Beaurivage, Nurse Practitioner (Family Medicine Unit)
Dr. Carla Barkman, M.D, C.C.F.P (Family Medicine Unit)
Naomi Hunter (I Will Help Regina)