Birth Tourism: Media interest following my Policy Options piece (updated)

While I had expected considerable media interest, given the substance and the politics of the issue, yesterday had me doing TV interviews on all major networks and a radio interview with Rob Breakenridge of Global news in Calgary.

The most in-depth TV interview was on Power and Politics at the 1:13 mark: Power and Politics 23 Nov 2018.

Global TV:  New numbers show more ‘birth tourism’ in Canada than thought

CTV: New data shows birth tourism on the rise on Canada

Later interviews

On Radio Canada Vancouver (in French):

Boulevard du Pacifique: La Colombie-Britannique, chef de file du tourisme des naissances

CTV’s Your Morning:

Shocking new study reveals “birth tourism” in Canada is steadily increasing

The Sunday Edition, with Michael Enright, featuring mmigration lawyer Jamie Liew and Jas Johal, MLA for Richmond-Queensboroug: Birth tourism may be a hot button issue in the next federal election

 

Birth Tourism: My analysis and related articles

The link to my Policy Options article on the extent of, and options in dealing with birth tourism:

 Hospital stats show birth tourism rising in major cities 

Article has attracted considerable interest on Twitter and in the media.

In the Toronto Star:

The number of so-called “anchor babies” — children born to non-residents for the purpose of gaining citizenship — is at least five times higher than Canadian officials had estimated, new research suggests.

Birth tourism in Canada, where women late in pregnancy fly in to deliver their babies here, is controversial because the newborns are automatically Canadian citizens and enjoy full citizenship rights such as free education and lower university fees, even though their foreign parents aren’t taxpayers.

Statistics Canada has, since 2013, counted 1,561 babies — about 312 annually — born here to mothers, whose place of residence was listed outside Canada, based on figures from provincial birth registries.

However, a new study from the Institute for Research on Public Policy released Thursday suggests the number of “anchor babies” born here every year is likely in the 1,500 to 2,000 range.

The study mined the Canadian Institute for Health Information discharge database, and according to researcher Andrew Griffith, the figures — based on hospital financial data that codes services provided to non-residents under “other country resident self-pay” — give a clearer picture of the extent of the problem.

The data shows the number of births to non-resident mothers (including all provinces but Quebec, which refused to release the data) skyrocketed to 3,628 last year from just 1,354 in 2010, said the report by the Montreal-based think tank. It showed the Richmond Hospital in British Columbia with the highest volume of babies born to non-resident mothers.

Of the top 10 hospitals where such births were recorded, six are in the GTA.

The numbers are not perfect because they don’t break down how many of the births were to mothers with temporary status in Canada, which include Canadian expatriates returning to give birth, corporate transferees or international students who didn’t come here to specifically to have children. But Griffith says a conservative estimate is that 40 to 50 per cent of the non-resident mothers were birth tourists.

“How the (delivery) services are paid for is a more representative and realistic measure than the provincial registries,” said Griffith, a retired director general with Immigration Canada, adding part of the discrepancy can be attributed to birth tourists using their temporary Canadian address on birth registration forms and hence not being counted as non-residents.

“The concern has always been these people are exploiting the loophole in the law to obtain citizenship for their children when they are not entitled to that. There’s also the financial liability and responsibility on Canadian taxpayers for the child’s benefits.”

Currently, immigration officials cannot refuse a visitor visa application on the basis of the applicant’s intent to give birth in Canada, though they can assess if the person has enough money to visit Canada, if they will abide by the visa’s departure date and if they have a criminal record and should be barred from entry.

In 2012, the then-Conservative federal government, under Stephen Harper, had considered a crackdown on birth tourism but discarded the idea because the relatively small number of incidents — based on an estimate of 500 cases a year — did not justify the anticipated costs of enforcement.

However, with immigration and refugees expected to become a wedge issue in next year’s federal election, the Conservatives voted this summer at the party’s convention to end the birthright citizenship policy that gives citizenship to babies born in Canada even if their parents aren’t citizens or don’t have legal status in Canada. The motion is non-binding but could be part of their campaign platform next year.

Andrew Griffith, a retired director general with the immigration department, said birth tourism, while not a huge problem, should be monitored closely.

Griffith said any policy decision must be based on evidence and that’s what prompted him to seek out the most reliable data on the issue of birth tourism.

“Is it a widespread problem or is it just a phenomenon at the Richmond Hospital?” asked Griffith, referring to the B.C. hospital cited by the media as the epicentre of birth tourism. “We need data for informed decisions.”

He said birth tourism, currently accounting for roughly 0.5 per cent of the total annual live births in Canada, is not a huge problem but should be monitored closely.

“Using this as a starting point, if we see any further increase or a trend line, then we need to take another fresh look at it,” he said.

The study offers three options for policy-makers to tackle the problem if birth tourism gets out of control:

  • Amend immigration laws to make it an offence if a female visitor fails to disclose the purpose of her visit to give birth or declare her pregnancy to officials. The child’s citizenship would then be deemed fraudulently obtained due to misrepresentation by the mother.
  • Follow Australia’s move by adopting a “qualified” birthright approach specifying a person born in Canada would only be a Canadian citizen if the parent is either a Canadian citizen or permanent resident and the child lives in the country for 10 years after birth.
  • Introduce regulations prohibiting rooming houses and consultant and support services for birth tourists, substantially increasing the financial deposits required by hospitals from non-residents and ordering the provinces to require proof of payment prior to issuing birth certificates for children of non-resident mothers.

Source: Number of ‘anchor babies’ born in Canada far greater than official estimates, study shows

The CP article quoting Minister Hussen’s reactions to the findings along with other commentary:

With new research showing that more babies are born in Canada to foreign residents than Statistics Canada realized, the federal government is studying the issue of “birth tourism” in the hope of better understanding how many women travel to Canada to have babies who are born Canadian citizens.

Using numbers from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), which captures billing information directly from hospitals, researcher Andrew Griffith found over 3,200 babies were born here to women who weren’t Canadian residents in 2016 – compared with the 313 babies recorded by Statistics Canada.

The finding suggests not only that the numbers are higher than previously reported, but that it’s a growing trend, Griffith says.

“(The data) shows the steady growth in the number of babies born in hospitals to women who are residents of other countries, by absolute numbers and percentage, for all provinces except Quebec,” Griffith wrote in an article in Policy Options, published by the Institute for Research on Public Policy. “These births total just over one per cent of all live births in English Canada.”

A petition tabled recently in the House of Commons by Liberal MP Joe Peschisolido calls on Canada to take stronger measures to end birth tourism, saying it abuses Canada’s social-welfare system.

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen responded by saying his department has commissioned research to get a better picture of the scope of the issue in Canada.

“While these statistics indicate that this is not a widespread practice, the government of Canada recognizes the need to better understand the extent of this practice as well as its impacts,” Hussen said in his response, tabled in Parliament.

The department has commissioned CIHI to perform this research.

The issue of so-called birth tourism has been polarizing in Canada, with the Liberals defending the current law that gives automatic citizenship to anyone born on Canadian soil except for children of foreign diplomats.

Conservative party members passed a policy resolution during their biennial convention this summer calling on the government to end birthright citizenship “unless one of the parents of the child born in Canada is a Canadian citizen or permanent resident of Canada.”

Leader Andrew Scheer said at the time one of the goals would be to end the practice of women coming to Canada simply to give birth to a child that will automatically have Canadian citizenship.

Other countries have ended or modified their birthright-citizenship laws, including the United Kingdom, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, India, the Dominican Republic, Thailand and Portugal. Recently, U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to end birthright citizenship in the United States, although critics have argued such a change could violate that country’s constitution.

Canada did explore changing Canada’s existing birthright policy under Stephen Harper’s Conservative government. This work ultimately found any change to the law would have significant impacts, according to a senior government official who spoke to The Canadian Press on background.

Many Canadians – 40 per cent or more – don’t have passports and use birth certificates to prove their citizenship. A change in birthright-citizenship rules would mean they’d need new forms of identification to prove their citizenship and get government services.

A 2013 estimate pegged the cost of changing the rules at $20 million to $30 million, plus $7 million in extra costs for the federal government every year, the senior official said. He further noted this did not include costs to the provinces and territories, which would be even higher because they’re responsible for more personal documents than the federal government is.

The Conservatives did not change the policy. Nor will the Liberals, said Mathieu Genest, a spokesman for Hussen.

“The birth-on-soil principle has been enshrined in our legislation since Canadian citizenship first came into existence in 1947. A change to this principle was planned by the Harper Conservatives, but abandoned after listening to the advice of experts,” Genest said. But the Immigration Department still wants a better understanding of what’s going on.

Griffith said he was inspired to delve into the question of how prevalent birth tourism is in Canada after he noted the number of non-resident births reported for Richmond Hospital in B.C. were disproportionate to the rest of the country, as calculated by Statistics Canada.

The data he collected from CIHI captured the number of mothers who paid out-of-pocket for their hospital bills, which was at least five times higher. He acknowledged this would include Canadian expatriates and foreign students whose hospital expenses were not covered by Canadian medicare.

Ontario immigration lawyer Gordon Scott Campbell said he’s had several clients in recent years who have given birth while in Canada while in the middle of legitimate refugee or immigration processes.

For example, he said some women with visitor status live with their spouses while applying for spousal sponsorship, and some refugees arrive pregnant or become pregnant while waiting for their claims to be processed.

“It would seem extremely punitive, even misogynistic, arguably, to say that no woman should be able to become pregnant or be pregnant if you’re not a permanent resident or a citizen of Canada,” Campbell said.

“Are we talking about three people a year, four people a year, flying into Canada (to give birth)?” he asked. “I’m not sure we even have any proof of that. There might be anecdotal proof out there in media articles, but if we’re talking two or three people a year, it’s hardly a national crisis justifying legislation.”

Vancouver Coastal Health, the authority that oversees the Richmond Hospital, said Thursday that taxpayers don’t pay for non-resident births. The agency provided its own statistics, which differed slightly from Griffith’s findings but which were also out of keeping with the numbers of non-resident births in Canada reported by Statistics Canada.

Statistics Canada says it generates its data from demographic information provided by vital-statistics registries in the provinces and territories. Parents complete these registry forms and are responsible for filing them with local registrars, the agency said. Griffith believes Statistics Canada might record lower numbers of non-resident births because parents put local addresses on these forms that aren’t their real permanent addresses.

As part of his response to Parliament, Hussen said Canada does not collect information on whether a woman is pregnant when entering Canada, nor can a woman legally be denied entry solely because she is pregnant or might give birth in Canada.

Source: Ottawa studying ‘birth tourism’ in light of new data showing higher non-resident birth rates

Brian Lilley in the Toronto Sun who also wrote an earlier piece on surrogacy and birth tourism:

When it comes to hot tourism spots in Canada, few would put suburbs like Richmond, British Columbia or Scarborough, Ontario up there with the CN Tower or the Rockies.

But to a certain kind of tourist, these suburbs, and specifically their hospitals, are all the rage.

A new paper from the Institute for Research on Public Policy shows birth tourism is growing in Canada’s major cities.

Written by Andrew Griffith, the former director general of Immigration Canada, the paper reveals significantly more women than thought are coming to Canada to deliver their babies and leave with a Canadian passport for their child.

“The level of birth tourism nationally is at least five times greater than the 300 births captured by Statistics Canada in 2016,” Griffith writes.

Instead of the Statistics Canada number, Griffith estimates that there were 3,628 babies born to foreign parents in 2017, and that doesn’t include numbers from Quebec.

“The impact of this practice can no longer be described as insignificant given its effect on the integrity of citizenship and public perceptions that birth tourism is a fraudulent shortcut to obtaining citizenship,” Griffith writes.

These figures don’t include landed immigrants or refugees, this is simply people who are simply visiting Canada when they give birth.

While some would be people visiting on a work or student visa, Griffith says that even with a conservative estimate of 40% to 50% the number is too high.

His search for better data on birth tourism was sparked by reports earlier this year showing more than 20% of births at the Richmond Hospital just outside Vancouver were due to birth tourism.

Of 2,145 births at this hospital in 2017-18, 469 were non-resident births.

The second highest hospital tracked by Griffith for the paper is Scarborough and Rouge Hospital — Birchmount site in Toronto’s East End and St. Mary’s Hospital in Montreal.

Both of those sites saw more than 9% of all births involve non-residents.

One thing all the hospitals on the list have in common is easy access to a major airport and direct flights in and out of Canada.

A petition sponsored by Liberal MP Joe Peschisolido, who represents the Richmond area, calls on the government to study the problem of birth tourism and take steps to end it.

So far the petition has garnered almost 11,000 signatures.

The previous Harper government considered taking action to stopping birth tourism but with StatsCan saying there were only a few hundred cases a year, the cost to enforce any new measures was deemed too high.

Now with higher and growing numbers, it is time to act.

The numbers tracked by Griffith show the number of births to non-resident mothers has just about tripled between 2010 and 2017.

None of this includes the numbers I revealed in this paper a week ago showing 44% of surrogacy births in British Columbia in 2016 and 2017 were for foreign based parents using a Canadian surrogate.

Each of those children, regardless of the status of the parents, gets full Canadian citizenship and all the benefits that entails. Even if the mother only flew into Canada and checked into the hospital for the express purpose of giving birth.

Isn’t that making a mockery of our system?

Doesn’t that debase Canadian citizenship?

There are lawyers, consultants and “global mobility solutions” experts offering services on having a baby in Canada in order to get a Canadian passport for the baby.

The Conservative Party passed a resolution at their convention this past summer to end the practice of birth tourism.

That move was instantly attacked by Trudeau’s top aide Gerald Butts as, “a deeply wrong and disturbing idea.”

You’ll recall that Trudeau famously campaigned to give back Canadian citizenship to convicted terrorists who had dual citizenship and who had taken up arms against Canada.

His mantra was that a Canadian, is a Canadian, is a Canadian.

It’s a handy catch phrase and useful when the real purpose is to try and sound compassionate and scare immigrants.

The truth is that under Trudeau Canada has still stripped many people of citizenship. From former Nazis to people that lied on their applications to come here.

The simple fact of the matter is that Canadians get to decide who gets citizenship, and we do that all the time.

Changing the law to end birth tourism, a growing and disturbing trend, would hardly be controversial for most Canadians.

Let’s hope someone in the political world has the courage to take up this issue.

Source: LILLEY: Birth tourism on rise across Canada | Toronto Sun

An article in The Breaker on the formal government response to the petition by MP Peschisolido (written before my article came out):

The federal Liberal government says it will undertake further research into birth tourism.

That, according to Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen’s Nov. 19 response to an electronic petition initiated by Richmond activist Kerry Starchuk and sponsored by Steveston-Richmond East Liberal MP Joe Peschisolido.

Starchuk’s petition, which was supported by 10,882 people, was brought to the House of Commons on Oct. 5 by Peschisolido. It called upon the government to state it opposes birth tourism, commit public resources to determine the full extent of the practice and implement concrete measures to reduce and eliminate the practice. Under federal law, MP-endorsed electronic petitions that gain 500 or more supporters within four months are tabled in the House of Commons. 

Citizenship acquired through birth on soil has been in place since the first Canadian Citizenship Act of 1947, though it does not apply to children of anyone representing or working for a foreign government. Richmond Hospital averages one foreign birth a day and there have been cases where local mothers have been transferred to other hospitals to make way for foreign mothers. Petitioner Starchuk is also concerned with the potential future health and education costs to taxpayers.

The 354-word response said the government does not collect information on whether a woman is pregnant when entering the country, and a person cannot be deemed inadmissible or denied a visa if they are pregnant or if they may give birth in the country. But foreign nationals are required to state the purpose of their visit.

“Applicants must always be honest about the purpose of their visit. Providing false information or documents when dealing with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada or Canada Border Services Agency is considered misrepresentation and has significant consequences,” said the official response.

The response quoted from 2016 Statistics Canada data that said only 300 children were born to foreign women among the 385,000 babies born in the country that year. But that data has been discredited in media reports which found public agencies do not harmonize their research and there are loopholes that prevent accurate data collection.

The Richmond News reported in June that many non-resident women who give birth at Richmond Hospital list their address as a birth house or birth hostel where they are temporarily staying. Richmond Hospital saw a jump in self-pay births from non-resident mothers from 299 in 2015-2016 to 379 a year later. Most were from China.

RICHMOND HOSPITAL (MACKIN)

Should the birth house operator list the address of their home business at the hospital’s registration desk, the ministry would not count the baby as a non-resident,” the newspaper reported. “Only when the true address of the mother is registered, does the birth become a non-resident in the eyes of Vital Statistics B.C.”

The response said the federal government “recognizes the need to better understand the extent of this practice as well as its impacts. IRCC has commissioned research from the Canadian Institute for Health Information, which also show the number of children born to non-residents who were required to pay hospital expenses to be less than 1% of total births in Canada, and will undertake further research in this regard.”

Starchuk said the response lacks details about the government’s next steps.

“There’s no deadline, they’ve left it open-ended,” Starchuk told theBreaker. “How long are they going to take to do it?”

She was also perplexed why such a multifaceted issue attracted a response from only the immigration minister, but not the ministers of public safety (Ralph Goodale) or border security (Bill Blair).

The response also said the government is “committed to protecting the public from fraud and unethical consulting practices and protecting the integrity of Canada’s immigration and citizenship programs,” so it is undertaking a comprehensive review aimed at cracking down on unscrupulous consultants and those who exploit programs through misrepresentation.”

In 2016, Starchuk also petitioned the federal government to end birth tourism, but the December 2016 reply from then-Immigration Minister John McCallum dismissed the issue. McCallum was later appointed Canada’s ambassador to China.

Source: Feds to study birth tourism, but petitioner wants details

Lastly, an op-ed by Jamie Liew of University of Ottawa law faculty written before my analysis, quoting my comments dismissing the issue as insignificant given the previous numbers (my position has evolved :):

There’s been a lot of talk about getting rid of birthright citizenship in Canada and the United States. U.S. President Donald Trump announced that he’ll issue an executive order to do so, and the Conservative Party of Canada passed a motion that, should they form the next federal government, birthright citizenship will be no more.

In the U.S., the president will have to contend with the fact that he can’t just unilaterally eliminate a right granted in the 14th Amendment of their constitution.

In Canada, birthright citizenship can be eliminated simply by amending or repealing parts of the Citizenship Act.

In both countries, the preoccupation with ending birthright citizenship is tied to the argument that migrants are engaging in “birth tourism” and challenging the integrity of citizenship. But the facts say otherwise.

As Andrew Griffith, former director general at Citizenship and Immigration Canada, points out, fewer than 0.1 per cent of total births in Canada in the past 10 years (except 2012) involved births of children to foreign mothers. Griffiths concludes, “An impartial observer would conclude that there is currently no business case for changing Canada’s birth policy.”

Aside from the business case, what’s not talked about is how the elimination of birthright citizenship would affect not just migrants, but all of us. Undoubtedly, such a policy would increase the number of stateless persons in Canada.

Every person born in Canada to non-citizen parents would have to apply for citizenship. More tax dollars would be needed to process the applications. Clerks would suddenly have the power to make substantive and legal determinations about the status of every person who applies for citizenship. Like any administrative system, mistakes would be made. Bad or wrong decisions would be challenged in the courts at great expense to both the state and people affected. People would struggle with the fact that they are stateless in the interim.

Being stateless has serious implications.

Stateless persons have difficulty accessing education, employment, health care, social services and freedom of movement. Simple things such as getting a bank account, cellphone account or registering birth, marriage or death are complicated, if not impossible. Stateless persons would be subject to arrest, detention and potential removal to places they may never have been to.

The elimination of birthright citizenship would have the greatest effect on the most vulnerable: the indigent, the less educated, those with mental illness, children in precarious family situations or wards of the state. These are the people who may not have the appropriate paperwork or proof that they do qualify for citizenship or they won’t have support for obtaining citizenship.

This one policy would create an expensive social problem for the state.

The elimination of birthright citizenship is, then, not an act to preserve or protect the integrity of citizenship. The policy is a dividing tool that fuels discrimination against those of different races and socioeconomic classes. It’s a tool to delegitimize persons who have a genuine and effective link to Canada. It would create barriers to important rights that come with citizenship, including the right to vote.

We only need to look at how stripping citizenship and the denial of citizenship in other places of the world have encouraged discrimination, persecution and violence against stateless persons. For example, the oppression of and the genocide against Rohingya people was precipitated by denial of their citizenship in Myanmar, a country they called home for generations.

Canadians should be cautious when considering the idea to get rid of birthright citizenship. It wouldn’t stop migrants from coming. Instead of making it harder to get citizenship, we should trust our well-oiled immigration system to deal with the entry of persons within our country.

Such a policy would not build confidence in the integrity of Canadian citizenship. Instead, citizenship would be more precarious than ever before.

Canadians should also be mindful that Canada has signed onto the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, both of which obligate Canada not to create situations of statelessness.

My father was born stateless because the state he was born into didn’t confer birthright citizenship. It affected his opportunity for education, employment and his mental health.

Being a child of a previously stateless person, I’m proof enough that welcoming stateless persons to Canada with the conferral of citizenship is the best way to build a nation.

Source: Birthright citizenship affects all Canadians

 

My Canada2020 podcast on immigration policy

My conversation on Canada2020’s podcast.

 

 

A new perspective on immigrants’ economic outcomes in Canada

My latest in Policy Options on the economic outcomes of visible minorities aged 25-34, broken down by gender, generation and geography, showing the overall relative success of Canada’s immigration and related programs, most notably for the second generation.

Data-rich from Census 2016

Source:  A new perspective on immigrants’ economic outcomes in Canada 

It’s fraudulent’: Former immigration official says action needed on ‘passport babies’

This CBC story, for which I did an interview, provides a good overview. Interesting to see just how much attention this story has and continues to receive (The National did a short report in which I was interviewed among others: The National Version):
A resolution passed during the Conservatives’ weekend policy convention calls for a future Tory government to end the practice of granting citizenship to babies born in Canada to non-resident parents. (Tom Hanson/Canadian Press)

One of Canada’s former top immigration officials says so-called passport babies are a genuine problem in some Canadian locales and closing a loophole being exploited by pregnant foreign tourists is required to curtail the fraudulent practice.

But Andrew Griffith, a former director general at Citizenship and Immigration, said that a policy resolution passed by Conservatives this weekend to end the practice of giving citizenship to anyone born in the country may be akin to “using a hammer to squash a fly.”

Delegates at the Conservatives’ policy convention in Halifax endorsed a resolution to end the policy of birthright citizenship, with backers contending too many foreigners are travelling to Canada solely to give birth to secure status for their children.

Party members voted to call for a key section of Canada’s nationality law to be rewritten, endorsing a policy that would remove citizenship rights for children born in Canada to non-Canadian (or non-permanent resident) parents. The resolution is, however, non-binding on a future government.

“It’s basically using fraud to get citizenship for a child. People are coming on a visa under false pretences and just coming for the opportunity to provide citizenship for their kid. I can understand the motivation, but it’s really not what the policy was designed for and it’s a form of fraud and misrepresentation,” said Griffith in an interview with CBC News.

Proponents of the change, introduced by delegates from Newfoundland and Labrador, said such a move is necessary to crack down on foreigners travelling here for the sole purpose of securing perks and privileges for their children that come with being Canadian.

The change would upend a section of Canadian law that has been largely intact since the advent of a distinct Canadian citizenship decades ago.

Conflicting statistics

Canada — along with some other nations in the Americas, including the U.S. — is among a few developed countries that grant citizenship to any child born on its soil, regardless of the immigration status of their parents.

There are a few exceptions, notably the children of foreign diplomats are excluded, but generally the principle of jus soli, Latin for “right of the soil,” is applied.

The Conservative party’s resolution on birthright citizenship, as adopted by a majority of delegates on Saturday. (Conservative Party of Canada)

Some have suggested this is a solution looking for a problem as, according to Statistics Canada, just 313 babies were born in this country in 2016 to non-Canadian mothers, out of the 383,315 children born here that year.

But other data suggests the phenomenon is more common. Richmond Hospital in Richmond, B.C., a city near Vancouver, recorded 383 births to non-resident mothers in 2016-17 — representing 17.2 per cent of all births at the hospital.

Last year, the number rose to 469, or 22.2 per cent of all births — according to statistics provided by the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority to CBC News. The authority said the majority were to Chinese nationals.

“It’s arguably crowding out [hospital] space and facilities for residents of Canada. So, there’s a real issue there in Richmond, B.C. and other localities,” said Griffith.

But Griffith questioned whether the Conservative solution is workable, noting former Conservative citizenship minister Jason Kenney pursued a policy change while in governmentonly to find the numbers relatively small and the cost to provinces — which issue birth certificates — prohibitive.

“I don’t want to see [birth tourism] happen, but on the practical side as to what you do about it, abolishing birthright citizenship is using a hammer to squash a fly, because if the numbers are small … do you really want to inconvenience literally millions of Canadians to address a relatively small problem? Are there other ways one can address the issue?”

Griffith suggested hospitals could require higher deposits from non-residents to cover medical expenses, or there could be changes to how visas are granted to pregnant women to allow border officials to refuse entry if they suspect a person is travelling to Canada to give birth.

He also said the clear discrepancy between StatsCan data and information supplied by just one B.C. hospital suggests the government needs to “get its act together … to get a real handle on what exactly the numbers are.”

B.C. ‘birthing houses’

The South China Morning Post, Hong Kong’s newspaper of record, has also documented a rise in the number of “birthing houses” in B.C. that host pregnant tourists looking to give birth to a Canadian baby.

That paper found dozens of such houses catering to pregnant foreign women who come to B.C. specifically to give birth to Canadian citizens.

“Can’t we do some regulation around these birthing houses? Or ban them?

“It is an abuse of the system, it’s an abuse of the policy but I think the measures need to be more focused and targeted rather than just wholesale change,” Griffith said.

Conservative B.C. MP Alice Wong, who has introduced a petition in Parliament on the issue, railed against the current policy, saying “passport babies take away the resources from our system.”

“It is dangerous to the mother and the child themselves. The Liberals support it. They do not support a fair citizenship system — we should fight for our own babies,” she told the convention Saturday.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer walks off stage after speaking to delegates at the Conservative national convention in Halifax Saturday. Scheer defended the party’s resolution on birthright citizenship Monday.(Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press)

Another delegate said citizenship should only be inherited from a Canadian parent.

“Justin Trudeau would tell you that Canada has no nationality and I think everybody here would disagree with that. I think our nationality runs in our culture, our land, our blood from Juno Beach to Vimy Ridge. We have a culture, we have a nationality, there’s no reason to arbitrarily hand out citizenship to whoever happens to be on vacation here,” the delegate said.

Liberal officials were quick to pounce on the Conservative resolution, suggesting it could allow future governments to strip immigrants of their status.

Stripping citizenship?

Gerald Butts, the prime minister’s principal secretary, said it was “remarkable … they committed to give the government the power to strip people born in Canada of Canadian citizenship,” while linking to a series of tweets from a Somali refugee who was born stateless.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh went even further, “unequivocally” condemning the “division and hate being peddled by @AndrewScheer & the Conservative Party of Canada.”

Conservative Alberta MP Deepak Obhrai also spoke out against the change, suggesting a birthright ban could be open to abuse.

“Any person who is born in Canada by law is entitled to be a Canadian; we cannot choose who is going to be a Canadian and who is not going to be a Canadian,” he said at the convention. “This is a fundamental question of equality.”

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer defended the adoption of the resolution Monday.

“Conservatives recognize there are many Canadians who have been born in Canada by parents who have come here to stay and have contributed greatly to our country. I will not end the core policy that facilitates this. Unlike Justin Trudeau, I will safeguard it against abuse. A Conservative government will restore order, fairness, and compassion to Canada’s immigration system,” he said in a statement.

Howard Anglin, a top legal adviser and deputy chief of staff to former prime minister Stephen Harper, said the Liberals were whipping up fear among immigrants for political purposes.

“Here we see openly the beginning of a plan to mischaracterize another policy proposal, which would align us with virtually all our peer countries and allies (and which, of course, is not yet in an election platform) to stoke fear and alienation in ethnic communities,” he tweeted.

“No one will be stripped of citizenship, which is what [Butts’s] tweet said. It’s not retroactive. The proposal is that children of tourists, visitors, & others temporarily in the country or here illegally, will no longer automatically become citizens (just like in our peer countries).”

But Janet Dench, executive director of Canadian Council for Refugees, said Monday there is no meaningful data to suggest “birth tourism” is an actual problem and that if the measure came into force, “the vast majority of people affected would not at all be people who come for birth tourism reasons.”

Dench told The Canadian Press it would impact many women who give birth in Canada while they are waiting for permanent residency status, refugee claimants and others in limbo.

We can have open, respectful debates on immigration

My latest in Policy Options:

How we debate immigration and related issues is as important as the issues themselves. Whether these be broad political or media debates, or more focused consultations or workshops, care needs to be taken to ensure respectful discussion.

Given the need for a diversity of views and the desire to protect free speech, are there criteria that should be used to assess who is likely to contribute to a constructive conversation and dialogue? Should these criteria be used to select speakers and panelists, or perhaps participants and audiences?

Canadian scholar Keith Banting’s one-third snapshot of the population — one-third favouring more immigration, one-third favouring less, and one-third in the middle — is a useful suggestion as to the possible groups that need to be engaged in this debate. But within these broad groupings, there is considerable variation. Moreover, this variation includes both “elite” and “populist” discourses.

Given the importance of immigration, citizenship and multiculturalism to Canada’s overall success as a country, it is essential that people be exposed to and discuss a variety of perspectives, that we get out of our bubbles, whatever viewpoint our “bubble” represents. This would also shed light on opinions that might not have been be aired, and it would encourage a more open conversation.

My goal in writing this article is to provide practical guidelines for organizers of workshops and consultations on the issue of immigration.

Except for the possibility of violence, threats or disruption, audiences should not be preselected. (However, asking panelists to suggest invitees can ensure the audience includes those interested in respectful dialogue.) In contrast, the selection of panelists must be done to at least ensure the dialogue is meaningful, and the exchange in the panel is respectful and polite. To guard freedom of speech there must be an atmosphere of decorum and mutual respect.

Respect also requires some exclusions: for example, of speakers who promote hatred or whose specialty is generating outrage. But within these limits, it should be possible to broaden discussions to help address some of the political and populist undercurrents in Canada that are not being openly expressed.

It may also be easier to have a constructive conversation and to air the deeper motives and values behind specific issues and concern when the focus is on practical issues rather than beliefs and values. But even practical issues can be controversial and divisive. For example, what should the number and mix of immigrants (economic, family, refugees)? What should the requirements of citizenship (language, knowledge, residency) look like? What is reasonable in reasonable accommodation (specific religious exemptions within the overall legal and constitutional framework)?

The objective should be not to convince one’s interlocutors but to increase mutual understanding of various positions and the perspectives, and the biases and values that underlie them. This must go beyond a discussion of mainstream views and engage more populist discourses.

Nevertheless, even conversations focused on practical issues should be guided by some “ground rules”; an agreed-upon etiquette. These include the need to

  • Listen and be open to hearing other perspectives
  • Be aware of conscious and unconscious biases that may inform assumptions and selection of evidence
  • Stick to the evidence, however imperfect, rather than anecdotes, and recognize that people may not interpret evidence in the same way
  • Be respectful in one’s language and tone to and avoid “demonizing” those with perspectives that are different from one’s own
  • Avoid personal criticism or labelling
  • Don’t assume that all members of specific groups have the same beliefs, values and perspectives.

But will a potential panelist want to follow these ground rules and actually enrich the discussion? It’s helpful to consider in advance the tone and language of an individual’s writings and public appearances. Do they focus on the substance of issues or do they engage in personal and/or group attacks? Does their written work appear in mainstream media, whether right- or left-of-centre, or rather in media that has a more extreme/xenophobic political agenda?

Partisanship, meanwhile, is not a reasonable reason for ruling out a potential panelist. Most people have partisan leanings and may approach issues from a specific political perspective.

In applying these guidelines, it is better to adopt a more inclusive approach to diverse views, including populist perspectives, to ensure greater understanding and dialogue. This means risking more uncomfortable conversations.

While these guidelines are written from the perspective of individual events, they are also broadly applicable to general conversations and dialogue. As such, hopefully they will contribute to more civil and informed discussion in general.

To date, Canada has not fallen prey to the world trend of declining support for immigration. Our history of accommodation, our relative geographic isolation, and the large number of immigrant voters mostly protect us from these trends. However, Canada always needs to be attentive to the potential for pressures toward anti-immigration populism and critics who say the country cannot manage its immigration. Greater engagement with diverse perspectives may help in dealing with these pressures.

via We can have open, respectful debates on immigration

In the era of extreme immigration vetting, Canada remains a noble outlier: John Ivison

Ivison’s take on my MPI article Building a Mosaic: The Evolution of Canada’s Approach to Immigrant Integration):

While Donald Trump used Tuesday’s deadly attack in New York to promote immigration restrictions, a remarkable consensus continues to hold in Canada, evident in the response to the government’s announcement that nearly 1 million newcomers will be welcomed over the next three years.

Immigration minister Ahmed Hussen said late Wednesday 310,000 new entrants will arrive next year, 330,000 in 2019 and 340,000 in 2020.

In response, Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel complained about the Liberals over-promising and under-delivering on the immigration file, pointing to a backlog at the Immigration and Refugee Board, a lack of mental health services for Yazidi women, wait times for permanent residency for caregivers, and an uneven spread of immigrants across the country. But crucially, those complaints were about management of the system by the Liberals, not the significant uptick in numbers.

In a world where the U.S. president is pushing to step up “extreme vetting,” where even countries like Germany and Denmark with a reputation for being havens are turning against immigrants, Canada is a notable, noble outlier.

As Andrew Griffith, a former senior bureaucrat at the department of Citizenship and Immigration, notes in a new paper for the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute, Canada’s successful immigration policy has its roots in the country’s history and geography.

“The ongoing creative tension between groups (English, French and Indigenous peoples) produced a culture of accommodation central to Canada’s ability to absorb and integrate newcomers. Further, the widely held perception among Canadians that immigrants are an economic boon and cultural asset to the country has made public opinion on the subject generally resilient, even as sharp backlashes have unfolded in the United States and Europe,” he wrote.

The polling bears that out. In fact, fewer people are concerned about immigrants not adopting “Canadian values” than at any time in the past 20 years, according to a major study carried out last year by the Environics Institute.

The study said 58 per cent of Canadians disagree with the statement that immigration levels are too high, compared with 37 per cent who agree. Views on the issue in Quebec reflected the national average.

It said 80 per cent believe the economic impact of immigration is positive, compared to just 16 per cent who disagree.

And it found 65 per cent think immigration controls are effective in keeping out criminals, up from just 39 per cent in 2008.

Since the major liberalization of immigration in the 1960s, when Canada abandoned race-based selection criteria and paved the way for the country’s current diversity, there has been a consistency about the broad parameters of immigration policy, regardless of which party has been in power.

Since 1995, immigrants admitted under economic preferences have consistently accounted for half or more of newly arrived immigrants.

The OECD’s migration outlook survey suggests the Canadian system is successful at attracting some of the world’s best and brightest. In 2014, 260,400 permanent residents were admitted, and more than half of the 25-to-64 year olds in that group had completed post-secondary degrees. The employment rate for foreign-born men was higher than for native-born men.

None of that is to suggest that the system is not used as a source of electoral fodder — particularly by the Liberal Party.

While the Conservatives reduced family-class immigration and increased economic immigration when they were in power, new programs introduced by the Liberals threaten to reverse some of that progress.

In the last election, the Liberals campaigned on prioritizing family reunification, granting points under the Express Entry system to applicants with siblings in Canada and doubling the number of applications allowed for parents and grandparents.

There was plenty more political pandering — watering down language requirements, lifting Mexican visa requirements and reducing the residency requirement for citizenship from four years to three.

The Trudeau Liberals’ emphasis on rights over the responsibilities promoted by the Harper government — and the prioritization of diversity over Harper’s insistence on shared Canadian values and history — paid electoral dividends, shifting the allegiance of a number of visible minority communities toward the Liberals.

Yet the changes were at the margins.

Both governments adhered to the distinctly Canadian model of integration, based on broad agreement about the way immigrants are selected, settled and melded into society.

The demographics defy partisanship and both Conservatives and Liberals have tried to offset the effect of an ageing population, where the working age to retired ratio is set to fall from 6.6:1 in 1971 to 2:1 by 2036.

Beyond the economics, there is a common approach to integration.

Griffiths notes that as far back as 1959 in Statistics Canada’s Canada Year Book, integration was defined as being clearly distinct from assimilation — it provided for the retention of cultural identity.

The niqab ban in Quebec suggests the debate on accommodation is not resolved.

But it is easy to lose sight of the fact that Canadians are broadly at ease with mass immigration to this country, even as it has resulted in a country with one of the largest foreign-born populations in the world.

Source: John Ivison: In the era of extreme immigration vetting, Canada remains a noble outlier | National Post

‘Sunshine’ approach to diversity in federal public service working, [Policy Options] study says

Toronto Star article (excerpt) based on my Policy Options article, Diversity in the public service’s executive ranks:

An employment equity regimen that relies on public disclosure rather than a mandatory quota system seems to have improved representation from women, visible minorities and Indigenous people in the public service, according to a new study.

Women now make up 54.4 per cent of federal government employees while visible minorities and Indigenous people account for 14.5 per cent and 5.2 per cent of the workforce, respectively, according to the report by the Institute for Research on Public Policy.

The latest government statistics say 50.4 per cent of Canada’s population are women, 20 per cent are visible minorities, and 4 per cent are Indigenous. The Canadian government defines visible minorities as non-white people other than Indigenous people.

Under the Employment Equity Act, the federal government is obligated to report annually on diversity within the government and in the federally regulated private sector.

The growth has been steady for both women and Indigenous people, who started at 46.1 per cent and 2 per cent respectively in 1993 when data became available, said report author Andrew Griffith.

And the almost quadrupling of representation for visible minorities from a mere 3.8 per cent in 1993 was remarkable, he noted.

“The transparency, sunshine-law approach and the politics of shame has shifted the representation of public services by a remarkable extent,” said Griffith, a retired director-general with the Immigration Department and now an independent policy analyst specializing multiculturalism and diversity.

“The organic and uncontroversial approach may have worked better than a quota system that would have created more resistance and tension.” 

Source: ‘Sunshine’ approach to diversity in federal public service working, study says | Toronto Star

Multiculturalism in Canada: Evolution, Effectiveness and Challenges: My latest

The Pearson Centre asked me to do a piece on multiculturalism for the 46th anniversary of the policy and Canada 150.

This article is part of a longer piece I am working on, looking at how immigration, settlement, citizenship and multiculturalism work together to foster integration.

I hope you enjoy it.

Source: Multiculturalism in Canada: Evolution, Effectiveness and Challenges (Pearson Centre), Multiculturalism in Canada: Evolution, Effectiveness and Challenges (pdf)

Todd: Debating immigration wisely means not vilifying opponents

Douglas Todd’s piece on my IRPP article “How to debate immigration policy in Canada”:

Canada is one of the few advanced countries that can’t seem to hold an authentic public discussion about immigration policy.

Canadian boosters of high immigration and those who oppose it are mutually contemptuous. Their verbal boxing matches are dominated by sloganeering and name-calling.

If Ottawa is ever going to take seriously public opinion to fine-tune its immigration policies, the combatants need to follow a few rules. They may need a referee, who acts fairly when others are losing their heads.

Andrew Griffith may not realize it, but he has just stepped forward to be the mediator between those who advocate more open borders and those who seek greater restrictions.

The high-level Immigration Department official, who has helped draw up the country’s citizenship policies, is on medical leave to undergo cancer treatment.

But his time away from the bureaucracy has inspired him to write books and a compelling essay just published by the journal Policy Options, titled, “How to debate immigration policy in Canada.”

I’ve experienced Griffith’s diplomat-like poise. Occasionally, I’ve tried to get him to air stronger opinions, yet he doesn’t take the bait. He’s committed to even-handedness.

But he’s also realistic. To use an edgier phrase than he might, Griffith realizes Canadians are pretty pitiful at openly discussing immigration issues.

Like others, Griffith suggests fear of being labelled xenophobic is the over-riding contributor to Canadians’ unusual silence on mass migration, which has arguably defined this country more than any other.

It doesn’t help the cause of dialogue that almost no politician, and few academics, will critique how Canada’s approach to the complexities of immigration affects the host society.

Source: Todd: Debating immigration wisely means not vilifying opponents | Vancouver Sun