Unfortunately, much of the debate again has revolved around what I strongly to believe strong ethnocultural tensions, particularly through Richmond where tensions have been brewing for quite some time and understandably so, with various related debates or controversies no doubt fueling the fire.
Positively, some media have been very clear about distinguishing between birth tourism and non-resident births. It is understandably easy to view all problems as coming from the same source – illegally planned and operated birth tours and birthing hotels. In actuality, however, the situation is much more complicated and the numbers of foreign billing addresses cannot correlate directly to the problem of birth tourism.
I want to highlight just a few modified situations that are very common, that I have seen, and would lead to non-resident births.
- A is an international student and her husband B is a permanent resident. They have lived in Canada for 15 years. Because of an immigration matter, X has lost status. She is ineligible for MSP, even though her husband is a permanent resident. They want to have a baby because both are heading to an age where must have a child or else fear not having a dependent. If A leaves the country, she would never be able to return;
- C is a temporary foreign worker in Canada. She had a one night stand with a fellow club go-er and found out she was pregnant. Her work permit is set to expire and she has no grounds to renew her status. Her MSP is expiring. Religiously, she is pro-life and does not believe in abortion. She chooses to have the baby but cannot afford the fees.
- D has returned back from her home country. She recently returned with her son and uncovered that her husband had been having an affair with a younger woman. This occurs after the couple has sex. She returns to Canada and on the advice of her family members decides to keep the baby.
The above are all situations where the mother would be non-resident that have nothing to do with birth tourism.
In my opinion, the fact individuals are avoiding bills should be considered a separate issue from that of who is giving birth. Theoretically, if they are utilizing birthing hotels and paying exorbitant (and highly illegal fees) to these underground birthing houses – why is this money not flowing to hospital. Who is trying to cover up the paper trail here? Are women subject to minimum standards of care at these facilities? If the women who are arriving to give birth are truly low income and unable to pay bills, what are the circumstances that have created this?
Second, this issue should not also mask a deeper problem of complex diasporic families that has arisen as a result of immigration. It is not uncommon for a mother and her children to be left in Canada while one spouse obtains work or manages affairs from abroad. In this sense, the fact that they would seek assistance (if they have financial means) of some third-party help seems reasonable. Yet, why are these individuals seeking services that appear not to hold legitimate business licenses? Are there barriers/distrusts of local services and how do we create a more inclusive environment?
Government resources, in my perspective, should not be focused on creating legislation that curbs non-resident births but instead severely punishes those who engage in the exploitative practice of encouraging (for profit) individuals to risk the lives of their children to come to Canada to give birth. Inputting intent to individuals who legitimately want to have children in Canada because they have “non-resident” status here as international students (short-term students – awaiting MSP), are awaiting spousal sponsorships as visitors, or have lost status is going to be a necessarily overbroad solution.
What worries me – is that there is so much that occurs in the underground economy – that takes years for government officials from different levels to respond to. Those years of bureaucracy create a perfect breeding ground for exploitative businesses. Add into the mix many newcomers and/or local residents struggle to make ends meet at survivor jobs, the prospect of being able to run a business outside of the view of regulatory bodies at a higher income starts appearing more attractive. This is an issue that goes beyond one community and is very rampant in Vancouver – be it the drug trade, illegal loan sharking, barely above water investments, etc.
Returning to the main point – should Canada have citizenship by birth? For me this is a foundational principle that should not be altered. Rather than allowing our citizenship to simply flow through descent and passed through generations, those born here with real physical connection to the country should be allowed to obtain citizenship. Indeed, for a country of settlers that arrived the same way, to now try and alter laws to preserve some sort of uniformity would be highly contradictory and deeply unaligned with the Canadian values that I firmly believe in.