By Jonathan Zettel
The right to vote — regardless of citizenship — ought to be a key election issue in 2014, according to a Toronto councillor.
“Let’s have every mayoral candidate step up and say what they believe on this issue and we will have a real debate in the city of Toronto,” Coun. Janet Davis, Ward 31, said in a standing-room only committee meeting Thursday.
Hundreds of thousands of Toronto residents are currently ineligible to vote in municipal elections, despite paying taxes and using city services, because they are not Canadian citizens.
Coun. Ana Bailao, Ward 18, brought a motion forward to investigate the feasibility of broadening voter eligibility during a City of Toronto Community Development and Recreation Committee meeting Thursday.
Three reports on immigration were brought to the committee, and a panel of immigration experts spoke about the reports and answered councillors’ questions.
The three reports—Toronto Newcomer Strategy, Undocumented Workers in Toronto and Federal Changes in Immigration Legislation and Policy—offered councillors a basis for the development of a strategic immigration plan.
Despite immigration being a federal issue, “the leadership of cities is critical,” said panelist Jehad Aliweiwi, executive director for Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office, in order to “facilitate healthy integration.”
Toronto should adopt a localized version of Eurocities Charter on Integrating Cities, Aliweiwi also said.
Adopting the charter would provide city hall with a lens through which all branches of municipal government could consider immigration issues.
Half of Torontonians are not born in Toronto, said panelist Audrey Macklin, associate law professor at the University of Toronto.
Macklin warned the committee about the federal government’s “four-in-four-out” immigration law which allows migrants to stay in Canada for four years and then must leave for four years before returning.
“This is a law that manufactures illegality,” said Macklin, noting that immigrants establish relationships and some do not leave.
Macklin also spoke about workplace disparity. Migrant workers often work hard and work scared, Macklin said.
“Immigrants arrive in good health and then there is a decline,” said panelist Notisha Massaquoi of Women’s Health in Women’s Hands who added that this is “avoidable and unjust.”
Better health in immigrant communites “will be the evidence that the plan is working,” Massaquoi said.