Sanctuary is a concept born in the minds of science fiction writers, that place forlorn vagabonds or survivors seek in exchange for miserable existence under extraordinary circumstances. Serving as a beacon of hope, a fleeting gossamer promise of returning to life as it should be. Safe, reasonable, welcoming – a hidden Shangra La amidst the chaos of brutal conflict.
In practical terms, “Sanctuary” has become the buzz word given cities dedicated to protecting the rights of migrant or illegal immigrants. Cities like Toronto (the first Canadian city to officially declare sanctuary status in Feb. 2013) who promise access to housing and social services regardless of status. Hamilton, Ontario followed and now Vancouver has raised the possibility of a “sanctuary” designation. In essence, the sanctuary city follows a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy – don’t ask about immigration status, and don’t tell Federal immigration officials about known or suspected illegals.
It’s difficult to explain how I feel about “sanctuaries”. My gut reaction screams “danger” – we are a nation of tolerant, open minded people – why create sanctuaries promoting safe haven from the Federal government? I’ll admit bile rises ever so slightly when asking myself if this is a symptom of Stephen Harper’s Canada – a Canada Harper forsakes in favor of playing with the “big boys”, a man intent on unraveling all that Canada stands for.
Once upon a time Canada was sanctuary. Far from perfect, not lacking injustice or shameful episodes of lunacy – yet a sanctuary for those escaping slavery, discrimination and persecution. Canadians were different – strong, principled and accepting – a vast nation of polite, hard working citizens believing in social justice and inclusion.
I have a hard time swallowing the concept of cities declaring themselves “sanctuary”. It’s like waking up and finding myself in a parallel universe – on the surface appearing normal, while frantically trying to convince others something is very wrong. Under the thumb of Stephen Harper our nation teeters on the brink of calamity . We all need to wake up and understand – our sanctuary didn’t require sanctuaries before he came along.