Posted on June 11, 2019

Montreal Unveils Measures to Assist and Protect Undocumented Immigrants

T'Cha Dunlevy, Montreal Gazette, June 5, 2019

The city of Montreal has announced initiatives making it easier and safer for immigrants to access its services and lead safer lives.

On Wednesday, the city unveiled its policy for access to municipal services without fear. It also introduced an intervention and protection unit devoted to helping immigrants in unsafe situations, including helping them navigate the legal system.

The focus is on helping undocumented immigrants and those of precarious legal status.

“Montreal is committed to providing access to its services for all people on the island, whatever their social status, ethnic or religious associations,” said Rosannie Filato, the executive committee member responsible for public security.

The city is loosening identification requirements to access such services as libraries, cultural institutions, Accès Montréal offices, sport and recreational centres, classes and day camps.

Beginning in the fall, immigrants who lack official documentation can go to one of four recognized organizations, including Médecins du Monde, in order to acquire a special ID card giving them access to municipal services.

They will be able to provide documents including permits, tourist cards, student cards or documents from their country of origin including a passport or driver’s licence, proof of their children’s registration in school, or a birth certificate.

“The policy shows the commitment of the administration to ensure safe, equitable access to municipal services in all boroughs, to all vulnerable persons, whatever their immigration status,” said Magda Popeanu, the city’s executive committee vice-president responsible for culture and diversity.

“They won’t have to fear that their status will be revealed. This (uncertain) status creates vulnerable Montrealers; it prevents their participation in city life.”

Médecins du Monde has been active on Montreal streets since 1999, helping those on the fringe, including sex workers, First Nations and the Inuit, and others who have difficulty accessing things like health services. Immigrants of precarious legal status are a growing concern, according to Véronique Houle, the association’s director of national operations.

Houle cited studies showing that 60 per cent of these immigrants eventually become residents, but it can take more than three years to normalize their status; 90 per cent live in poverty; 71 per cent limit their displacement in the city out of fear of being stopped by police or immigration services; 29 per cent have children who can’t partake in extracurricular activities at their schools and libraries; 56 per cent experience housing instability; and 52 per cent say their mental health is affected because of stress, isolation and fear.

“They have no access to food banks, daycare or city services,” Houle said. “That all changes for people when they become residents and citizens. We want to take care of these people, whatever their immigration status. We’re proud to be involved so that Montreal can be truly inclusive and responsible to all those who decide to live here.”

The intervention and protection unit for immigrants aims to help those of precarious status who are victims of abuse or criminal acts, as well as witnesses of such acts and those close to the victims.

This includes abuse in the workplace and harassment by a landlord. Often people hesitate to come forward, to seek help or contact authorities. The Centre d’aide aux victimes d’actes criminels (CAVAC) is working with the city to assist and advise people in these situations.

The goal is not necessarily to pursue legal action, according to CAVAC director Jenny Charest, but to empower people, who can remain anonymous if desired.

“CAVAC believes in the autonomy of the victim,” Charest said. “We respect their choices. We want to be proactive, and develop our expertise to better serve a clientele that doesn’t necessarily come to us.

“There are many barriers for immigrants without legal status to seek help. Many of them don’t know the language, they don’t know the laws or how the system works. These people are vulnerable and scared of asking for services. Our goal is to reduce these barriers so that people know about us and can come get the necessary help.”

CAVAC’s mandate begins at the end of June, with the objective of developing the tools for intervention, protection and dissemination of information according to community needs. The free service will go into effect in the fall.