Birth tourism is the name given to the practice of pregnant women travelling to Canada from other countries – predominantly China – to give birth here. They do so because children born in Canada automatically become Canadian citizens. This is due to the Canadian Citizenship Act, passed in 1947, which provided that any individual born in Canada would automatically become a Canadian citizen. At that time, no one could have predicted that this right would be abused.
Only 35 countries in the world grant automatic citizenship, regardless of the parents’ nationality or status. Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, among others, have restricted birth citizenship to those whose parents are citizens or permanent residents of their countries. No European countries permit automatic citizenship to those born on their soil.
However, across Canada, hospital discharge data show there were 4099 births to non-residents in 2018/19 (excluding Quebec). That is, non-resident births rose 13% in the last fiscal year, a rate that is higher than both immigration and over-all population rate increases. The number of non-resident births in B.C. rose 3.3 % overall. At Vancouver’s St. Paul’s Hospital, it rose by 12.9% from 2017/18 to 2018/19. In a Richmond, B.C. hospital the increase was 5.6%. A hospital in Richmond Hill, Ontario – just north of Toronto, Ontario, had 229 birth tourists last year, which was 13.3% of all its births.
These births by non-residents have been encouraged by numerous websites, sponsored by brokers in China, encouraging pregnant women to come to Canada to give birth to their children, by offering hotels and “birthing houses”, catering, tours, passport applications, doctor appointments, some pre- and post-natal care as well as hospital registrations. These brokers collect hefty commissions for their efforts.
Birth tourism is not cheap – costing roughly $60,000, including hospital fees and a three month stay in “birthing houses”, which are springing up near hospitals, especially in suburban Vancouver and Toronto. Since it is unethical for a doctor to refuse to assist a woman giving birth, some doctors are being denied payment by foreign patients, who leave Canada without paying. An obstetrician is paid between $600 and $1,500 for a birth, but they must collect payment privately if the patient is not covered by Medicare. To avoid non-payment, most hospitals demand up-front payments, ranging from $8,000 to $15,000 for births by non-residents. However, the fact is that whether the parent pays or not, their children remain Canadian citizens. The advantage for such children and their families includes lower university tuition, student loans, a Canadian Visa for free travel to many countries, including the U.S., and the right to sponsor his/her family members to settle in Canada once the child attains 18 years of age
Thus, birth tourism is very costly for the Canadian taxpayer, since it is used to gain access to Canada’s publicly subsidized post-secondary education system and to take advantage of Canada’s public health care system and generous social security benefits, without these families having to contribute to the funding of these benefits.
It is also discouraging that birth tourism is being used to bypass our immigration system whereby the rules and regulations, and difficulties required to attain admission to Canada and the privilege of being granted citizenship are avoided.
Concern About Birth Tourism
At its policy convention in Halifax, N.S., in August 2018, the Conservative Party passed a non-binding resolution to amend the Party’s policy book to state that: “we encourage the government to enact laws which will fully eliminate birthright citizenship in Canada unless one of the parents of the child born in Canada is a Canadian citizen or permanent resident of Canada”.
Liberal leader Justin Trudeau’s then Principal Secretary, Gerald Butts, said that the Conservative policy was “deeply wrong and a disturbing idea”.