Mythbusting: Access Without Fear to Municipal Services

Edmonton’s new Access Without Fear to Municipal Services policy has sparked discussion and questions.

Let’s take a closer look at the policy and what it will change for some of Edmonton’s most vulnerable residents.

Access to basic municipal programs and services is a given for  the majority of Edmontonians. ETS service or City rec centre workouts are routine for many of us. For many vulnerable or undocumented individuals who experience poverty, and are unable to access municipal programs and services, this is not the case. City Administration reviewed existing services offered and found that the vast majority were accessible without verification of immigration status.

Edmontonians riding the LRT
Edmontonians riding the LRT

Why did the City propose this policy?

Vulnerable populations and undocumented individuals may be wary of interactions with the City and fear having their status questioned. This reluctance to engage is contrary to the many intended outcomes of our municipal services, such as public safety and community wellness.

Access to City programs and services can be difficult for these individuals if they are required to present proof of identification or income verification. This policy will improve access to key, low-income municipal services for undocumented individuals, regardless of their ability to provide identification.

Is this a “sanctuary city” policy?

Simply put, no. This policy does not affect or change individuals’ immigration or citizenship status, nor does it seek to attract newcomers to Edmonton. It introduces minor updates to training for City staff when providing municipal services. The comparison to sanctuary city policies is misleading as Edmonton’s Access Without Fear policy is mainly about clarifying identification requirements.

Canadian municipalities, like Vancouver, have chosen to use the term “Access Without Fear” to describe approaches to further clarify that all residents can access municipal services without fear of disclosing their immigration status.

Sanctuary City policies are different in that they focus more on a city’s relationship with immigration authorities. They are most commonly seen in the United States and Europe.

Queen Elizabeth outdoor pool
Queen Elizabeth outdoor pool

Is there a cost to taxpayers?

The policy does not include a request for new public funding. The vast majority of City services do not require Edmontonians to provide ID, so there will be few process changes.

City staff will review and update procedures and identification requirements for existing and future programs and services. The policy also clarifies that a variety of identifications are now acceptable, and all information is kept confidential and used only for the purposes intended.

Two low-income municipal programs currently require identification and income verification from residents who wish to qualify:

  1. Ride Transit Program: Provides free ETS monthly passes to low-income and vulnerable applicants via 10 partner organizations; and
  2. Leisure Access Program: Subsidized City recreation passes provided through partner organizations, on the basis that applicants meet low-income requirements.

City staff will explore the impacts of expanding both programs.

Who does the policy serve?

It serves Edmontonians. People who, for reasons out of their control, might have been taken advantage of, even exploited, during their time here or have tried tirelessly to secure their citizenship but have faced challenges and complications.

There are concerns that this policy could lead to a jump in crime or attract more undocumented individuals. However, studies have shown no rise in undocumented immigrants, and crime rates are actually lower in cities with similar policies.

This policy doesn’t make Edmonton a “sanctuary city.” It shows that, at our core, we are a city that welcomes and cares for every single person who contributes to the fabric of Edmonton.

Ultimately, as Councillor Hamilton stated, this is “fundamentally about affording people the right to live in the city without fear.”

Canada Day 2017 inside City Hall
Canada Day 2017 inside City Hall