Petition to Parliament calls for end to automatic citizenship to end 'birth tourism'
Once 18, a baby born in Canada can sponsor parents and other family members for citizenship
Thousands of Canadians have signed an electronic petition urging the government to restrict automatic citizenship rights for babies born in Canada to foreigners in an effort to stop what they call "birth tourism."
The petition was presented in Parliament this week by B.C. Conservative MP and former cabinet minister Alice Wong.
The 8,886 signatories want to change Canada's birthright citizenship law they say "enables an abusive and exploitative practice" where "expectant mothers who are foreign nationals with no status in Canada can gain automatic citizenship for their children born within Canada."
Wong said the issue is "significant" in her riding of Richmond Centre, as well as other large cities like Toronto and Calgary.
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She said "birth houses," which are sometimes dubbed "maternity motels," have sprouted up, operating as temporary lodging for pregnant women from other countries. Some are waiting to qualify for health insurance, while others pay for the hospital services, Wong said.
"Immigration and our diversity is what makes Canada unique. It is also important to protect the integrity of our immigration system and ensure that new Canadians join our country in a way that is fair," she said in an email.
The petition notes that Canada is one of only two developed countries that have not moved to end automatic citizenship due to "widespread abuse."
The other is the U.S., where Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has controversially called for an end to "anchor babies."
But the issue of "birth tourism" is flaring up in other countries as well. The U.K. does not have birthright citizenship, but British Prime Minister Theresa May recently suggested establishing passport checks on pregnant women at hospitals to crack down on the growing number travelling from other countries to take advantage of free hospital services.
'Nothing's right about it'
The petition says the practice of birth tourism can be costly to taxpayers for health and education and other social services. Once 18 years old, someone born in Canada can sponsor parents and other family members.
Kerry Starchuk, a resident of Richmond, B.C. who launched the petition, said Canadian citizenship should not be automatically granted when neither parent has any status or ties to the country.
She said she became aware of the issue after noticing a residence next door to her was housing a "revolving door" of pregnant women.
She believes there is a growing underground economy where commercial enterprises help bring over and accommodate women from other countries to give birth in Canada.
"Nothing's right about it," she said. "It needs to stop or more and more people will take advantage of the loophole."
'No plan to change policy'
The government has 45 days to formally respond to the petition, but Camille Edwards, spokeswoman for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister John McCallum, said no change is in the works.
"Children born in Canada to parents who are temporarily in the country (except children of diplomats, other representatives or employees in Canada of a foreign government) are automatically Canadian citizens under the Citizenship Act," she said in an email. "There is no current plan to change this policy."
The Immigration Ministry does not collect data related to this issue.
Statistics Canada shows the number of births in Canada to mothers of residence outside Canada climbed from 247 in 2008 to 699 in 2012, the last year figures are available. But those numbers could include some Canadians who live abroad, but return to Canada to give birth.
Lori Cascaden, media relations manager for B.C.'s Ministry of Health, said non-resident births account for approximately two per cent of the 44,000 babies born in the province each year. She said residents of other countries give birth in Canada for a variety of reasons, including premature or unexpected labour.
She said the top priority is to ensure all babies are safely welcomed to the world, no matter where they are from. But non-residents must pay all the associated costs, with revenue put back into the system.
"The ministry in no way endorses or supports the marketing of maternity tourism," Cascaden said, adding that "Immigration Canada should be responding to allegations of someone coming to Canada for the sole purpose of giving birth."
B.C. has an eligibility, compliance and enforcement unit that monitors this issue, she said.
People should always be honest about the purpose of their visit when applying to come to Canada- Lindsay Wemp, immigration ministry spokeswoman
Immigration spokeswoman Lindsay Wemp said all visitors must meet the requirements for temporary residence under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
Visa applications are considered on a case-by-case basis, with decisions made by highly trained visa officers.
"Visa officers look at many factors in assessing whether an applicant is a genuine temporary resident. All applications from around the world are assessed equally, regardless of their country of origin," Wemp said.
"People should always be honest about the purpose of their visit when applying to come to Canada temporarily, as it is a serious crime to lie on an application, or to send false information or documents, when dealing with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. This is called 'misrepresentation.'"
If a person provides false information or documents, the ministry will refuse their application.
They could also:
- Be forbidden to enter Canada for at least five years.
- Have a permanent record of fraud with Immigration.
- Be charged with a crime.
- Be removed from Canada.