McKenney call for sanctuary city status draws criticism from fellow councillors

The chair of the Police Services Board believes a suggestion from Councillor Catherine McKenney to turn Ottawa into a sanctuary city for undocumented immigrants may be overreaching.

A sanctuary city status would - in theory - allow immigrants to access municipal services without fear of deportation.

Speaking with CFRA on Wednesday, McKenney suggested if someone was pulled over for a routine traffic stop without papers, they would not immediately be turned over to immigration.

But Councillor Eli El-Chantiry says a practice like that would go beyond municipal powers.

"My understanding is the police service does not take direction from city council, especially on operational matters," El-Chantiry told CFRA's News and Views with Rob Snow on Thursday. "City council can ask as much as they like. It doesn't mean police would be obligated to comply with that request."

Toronto council made a directive to its police service saying not to ask for the citizenship status of a victim of or witness to a crime.

El-Chantiry noted he would be speaking with legal staff to define what a sanctuary is.

Councillor Allan Hubley says city council should not be making these kinds of decisions in the first place.

"As much as Councillor McKenney would love to set up her own immigration department, have unlimited tax dollars to run it and start vetting people herself, (council) is not doing that," Hubley told CFRA.

"We're focused on getting the buses running properly, getting the roads working... That's what we were elected to do."

McKenney said Wednesday she was in the process of drafting a motion to be presented next week.

Councillor Mathieu Fleury and Councillor Jeff Leiper tweeted in support of the idea.