Liberal MP Joe Peschisolido introduced a petition condemning the practice of birth tourism in the House of Commons Friday.
Peschisolido said he is seeking “concrete measures” to “eliminate” an industry that appears to be growing in a relative grey area, particularly in Richmond, B.C., where his home riding of Steveston-Richmond East is situated.
“The birth tourism industry must be dismantled and ultimately shut down,” Peschisolido said in a news release.
The petition was signed by 10,822 people.
Speaking to Glacier Media, Peschisolido said those concrete measures are to be determined, and he and the federal Liberals are unwilling to consider changes to Canada’s unconditional birthright citizenship (jus soli) rights – unlike the Conservatives – which underpin the motives of foreign nationals coming to Canada to give birth for the explicit purpose of obtaining automatic citizenship for their newborn — sometimes referred to as a “passport baby” or “anchor baby.”
Some Conservatives, including Richmond Centre MP Alice Wong, have proposed ending unconditional birthright citizenship rights.
Peschisolido said he wants those entering Canada on tourist visas to continue to have this right, on “philosophical” grounds.
“I don’t believe we should start making distinctions,” he said.
Instead, he is pointing to a three-level government approach to disrupt the industry. He said he’s spoken to federal ministers Ralph Goodale, Ahmed Hussen and Bill Blair, who are in charge of public safety, immigration and border security, respectively. A response to the petition from them is expected in 45 days. But Peschisolido provided no details on what exactly they can do.
As it stands, it is not illegal to come to Canada to give birth, as long as an applicant is honest.
Peschisolido said “even [U.S. President] Donald Trump” has resisted changing jus soli rights, although those are protected in the U.S. Constitution – but not in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Meanwhile, “municipal and provincial governments must also address and come to grips with birth tourism,” he said.
He offered no suggestions as to what a municipality can do. But he said he’s aware of 23 birth tourism hotels operating in Richmond.
These home-based businesses help mothers register at hospitals and book doctor appointments, among other services. They legally rent bedrooms to mothers for periods longer than 30 days.
Petitioner Kerry Starchuck, a Richmond resident, said municipalities such as Richmond should proactively ensure theses businesses have licenses and comply with tax, health and transportation regulations.
“We have to deter it as much as possible,” she said.
Richmond-Queensborough MLA Jas Johal has previously suggested charging foreign nationals much higher delivery fees to dissuade them from coming to the hospital. But the province’s Hospital Act would need to be changed, as hospitals are only allowed to operate on a non-profit basis.
Peschisolido suggested birth tourism agencies and doctors facilitating non-residents could be more scrutizined.
He also expressed the desire to compile better data on the industry.
The frequency with which birth tourism occurs in B.C. and across Canada may be significantly underreported.
For example, expectant foreign mothers typically register at Richmond Hospital using their Richmond address, and so provincial data on non-resident births in B.C. are vastly underreported because B.C. Vital Statistics compiles data from addresses on registration forms and not the number of uninsured, non-residents of Canada paying to give birth.
Whereas Richmond Hospital reported 299 “self-pay” births from non-resident mothers in the 2015-16 fiscal year and 379 in the 2016-2017 fiscal year, Statistics Canada reported only 99 births in B.C. in 2016 where the “place of residence of [the] mother [is] outside Canada.”
Across Canada there were only 313 such births reported in 2016. That is in stark contrast to a court document in the U.S., reported by NBC, citing a study showing 40,000 babies a year are delivered by women on tourist visas.
The B.C. Ministry of Health said this summer it is planning to change its reporting practices.
Non-residents paying to give birth at Richmond Hospital accounted for 22 per cent of all births last year, up from 17 per cent the year prior.
In the 2017/2018 fiscal year, Vancouver Coastal Health reported 474 babies born in Richmond to 469 non-residents of Canada, who were invoiced $6.2 million, of which $1.1 million has yet to be paid, according to officials.
Nurses in the hospital have decried the practice as an abuse of the public healthcare system.