Colby Cosh: Vancouver’s birth-tourism issue could soon become Ottawa’s problem

More on birth tourism and good summary of some of the issues involved.

Will remain to see if the Conservatives decide to address the issue or not in their election platform or one of Andrew Scheer’s policy speeches beyond his earlier policy statement (SCHEER STATEMENT ON BIRTH TOURISM | Press & Media, “ending birth tourism will be among the objectives of our policy”):

It would be faintly ludicrous to suggest children born in Canada to mere visitors cannot have their entitlement to auto-magical citizenship compromised or questioned

Is birthright citizenship doomed in Canada? An omen appeared in Friday morning’s Vancouver Sun: B.C. Liberal MLA Jas Johal did some research and presented the paper with a number of examples of online advertising from Chinese websites that tout the benefits of intentionally delivering an anchor baby on Canadian soil.

The ads suggest that brokers are offering “one-stop shopping” for pregnant women: they promise to set up housing, transportation, and perinatal care, all so that the blessed event itself can happen in a comfortable, clean, high-quality Canadian hospital. This gives your child the golden ticket of Canadian citizenship — coming as it does with access to superior Canadian education, Canadian welfare and social insurance, and widespread visa-free international travel.

In turn, your Canadian infant can one day serve as your own access point for Canada’s family-reunification immigration stream. Or you may set your eyes on higher vistas: one ad says enticingly that “Canadian passports mean immigration to the U.S.” (The Sun says that it checked Johal’s translations from the Chinese.)

Last year there was a controversy over birth tourism when the Conservatives voted at their annual convention to eliminate automatic citizenship for the children of non-citizens born in Canada. This policy plank was contentious at the time, and the Conservatives were denounced for even discussing the issue. Nobody, of course, was willing to defend birth tourism as such. You would have to be a pretty extreme advocate of open borders to say, on being presented with Chinese ads for birth-tourism brokers, that these are legitimate businesses serving a noble purpose to the benefit of Canada. (Although it might be true!)

The complaint against the Conservatives was not that automatic “jus soli” citizenship for everybody born here makes sense as an eternal, universal principle, but that birth tourism just doesn’t happen enough to be a problem. The question now being raised — the question that Johal’s folder of ads is likely to emphasize — is whether anybody was really bothering to check.

In November, Andrew Griffith, a former senior bureaucrat in the federal Citizenship and Immigration department, did some research using hospital finance statistics from the Canadian Institution for Health Information (CIHI). Griffith found that the numbers of non-residents giving birth in Canadian hospitals was growing, that they are approaching 10 per cent of all births at a few urban hospitals, and that for one enormous outlier they are twice that. And, surprise! The outlier is the Richmond Hospital in Richmond, B.C.

These numbers are still not enormous (against a national background), and they include some births that obviously are not “tourism,” within families that are in Canada for study or business. Nonetheless, it is hard to imagine a non-tourism explanation for the patterns Griffith found. The situation at the Richmond Hospital had already been noticed locally, and had become a pet issue of local Liberal MP Joe Peschisolido.

Johal challenged B.C.’s health minister, the former provincial NDP leader Adrian Dix, on birth tourism in a legislature committee this week. Dix did not give the natural New Democrat answer that jus soli citizenship is sacred. He said he was concerned about the tourism issue, that he doesn’t support or favour birth tourism, and that only Ottawa can do something about it — “if they want to act.”

This does not sound to me like an issue that is likely to remain confined to B.C. in the long run, or to be easy for the federal Liberals to deflect if it emerges. It is hard to imagine the provinces being able to limit birth tourism at the hospital level: a woman standing in a Canadian emergency room in a pool of amniotic fluid is going to receive care whatever her own citizenship or other bona fides are. Preventing anchor-baby births by means of the visa process, Griffith acknowledges, “would be virtually impossible.” The humane solution to the problem, if it is a problem, must involve putting new restrictions on birthright citizenship.

Canada’s constitution does not specify automatic jus soli citizenship, explicitly or otherwise. The enterprising gadfly lawyer Rocco Galati tried to argue the opposite in a case that reached the Federal Court in 2015, and he got his head handed to him by Justice Donald Rennie, who piled up eons of British and Canadian law and concluded that “Nationality and citizenship are entirely statutory constructs.” Canada has tinkered with the rules concerning the children of its citizens born abroad several times, and now restricts “jus sanguinis” (inherited citizenship) to one generation in most cases.

It would be faintly ludicrous to suggest that we can make such a change affecting persons descended solely from undoubted Canadian citizens, but that children born in Canada to mere visitors cannot have their entitlement to auto-magical citizenship compromised or questioned. I sense, however, that making exactly this argument will be the initial instinct of a Trudeau government, if it comes to that.

Colby Cosh: The Supreme Court faces the emo drama of expatriate voting

Good if somewhat disjointed commentary:

On Wednesday the Supreme Court will hold a hearing in Frank vs. Canada, a test case on the voting rights (in federal elections) of expatriate Canadian citizens. Everybody agrees that they definitely have some. The Charter is unambiguous about assigning such a right to all Canadian citizens. The question is whether this is a right that can be temporarily withdrawn, as the law now does, from a Canadian who has been apart from Canada for some time and is outside the reach of its law and institutions.

Lower courts have already offered conflicting answers, so it is hard to be sure what the Supreme Court will do. But emotional framing is bound to weigh a great deal in the final argument. In the court of origin, the government made an argument that letting long-term expatriates vote was unfair to the poor wretches who are trapped in Canada and who have no choice but to live with its government.

This was a sort of “dilution of voting power” argument, but it had the effect of sounding like the legal arguments that used to be made against prisoner voting — arguments that were ultimately thrown out. The Supreme Court approved inmate voting in 2002; having been asked “Hang on, you’re going to let a convicted rapist have the same voice in government as his victim?”, it returned what is now the accepted answer. “Yes, that’s the nature of a right. Like it or not, rapists have ’em too.”

This involves us in some logical awkwardness, because convicts have plenty of other rights whose free exercise we forbid after due process of law. But on the other hand, prisoners are definitely stuck with the Canadian state, and with its exclusive privilege of retaliatory violence, in an even more obvious sense than free residents are. It would thus be a bit weird to make Canada’s determination to count convict votes part of an argument, by extrapolation, for expatriate voting.

Weird or not, that’s what the originating judge did. He saw these as analogous questions of personal dignity. We don’t want to devalue or question the Canadian-ness of people who have been away for many years, but who feel Canadian and insist on being Canadian.

The majority on the Ontario Court of Appeal panel that next heard Frank vs. Canada cleared its throat and said, as it were, “Whoa, let’s start over.” Those judges chose a guiding metaphor that had not been used in the original contest: the philosophically notorious “social contract.” Resident citizens have duties and obligations that expatriates don’t: obvious ones include taxes and compulsory jury service (how would expatriates like to be reeled back in for that?), but there is also the big, obvious one of “being subject to Canadian law,” the vast obsidian bulk of which applies only on Canadian soil. Moreover, we exclude non-resident citizens from social entitlements like public health insurance.

But there is nothing in the text of the Charter that requires or urges a “social contract” framing of core democratic rights. The appeal court was, as I see it, trying to find a way of dressing common sense in legal language — asking, in effect, “Hang on: we’re really going to let U.S. taxpayers with Canadian passports vote in Canadian elections?” We have seen what often happens to such “Hang on …” arguments at the Supreme level.

Until recently, no one had considered letting expatriate citizens vote as a matter of right. The whole issue cropped up because Canadian law had, from the First World War on, to devise obviously desirable provisions for voting by Canadians who are abroad in uniform and in the foreign service. Citizens who are away from Canada just because there is more money or opportunity or sunshine somewhere else are not in the same position as those who are actual living tendrils of the Canadian state. But since the law makes a distinction between mere economic expats and offshore agents of Canada, the expats have an opportunity to denounce the distinction and wriggle through the hole.

For some reason, everyone recognizes that the “expatriates have a right to express Canadian identity” argument does not quite work for provinces. A Quebecer living in B.C. is likely to have a meaningful, even essential personal connection to Quebec, but there exists no legal concept of Quebec citizenship, or at least none recognized by the federal government.

I wonder, though, whether the resident citizen’s right to vote in federal elections could be logically severed from mere geographic accident, if we are going to adopt that view of things. Shouldn’t I be allowed to vote for a member of parliament in my hometown, although I no longer know much of its concerns and circumstances in detail, and almost never visit? Bon Accord, Alta., did form my character! And I suppose I care about it! From a polite distance!

Some Canadian citizens might be able to claim a right to cast a vote in many places with which they have some prior connection — maybe even an ancestral one. The opportunities for tactical voting would be hilarious. On what grounds could this kind of frenzy be ruled out, in logic, if the emotional principles of disfranchised expatriates are admitted by the law?

Source: Colby Cosh: The Supreme Court faces the emo drama of expatriate voting

Colby Cosh: Thought Canada solved its census problems by booting Harper out of office? Think again

I found this piece by Cosh of interest as it indicates some of the less known challenges to the Census (and I am never bored by Alberta stories…):

Wow, this interim report on Alberta electoral boundaries is fascinat—

All right, I can already hear some of you saying “It’s called the NATIONAL Post, you hayseed; don’t bore us with trivia from your crummy Alberta backyard.” Well, everything happens in someone or other’s backyard. And this boundary reshuffle is an unusually consequential one—not just for the next Alberta election, but for the New Democrat cause across the country, and for the chess game of “right-wing unity” that continues to be a subplot of Canadian history.

But it really is interesting in its own right, if only for one reason. Much of the city of Fort McMurray, as you know, was destroyed by fire on May 3, 2016. The date of our country’s quinquennial census fell on May 10, 2016. This has presented an unprecedented problem for the five-person Alberta boundaries commission. And its interim report, designed to be discussed more before being finalized in October, admits that the commission does not yet have a good solution.

Door-to-door enumeration of Fort Mac on the May 10 date was impossible. A census is supposed to be a near-perfect snapshot of the country, taken at the same moment across the land. But such a snapshot of Ft. McMurray on May 10 would have returned a population of near zero, which would have obviously been useless for any policy purposes. Census respondents in the scorched city were therefore asked to report personal data pertaining to May 1, and so the figure in the census (66,573 persons) is not very realistic either—it may be little more than an accountant’s tribute to Fort Mac at a peak that it may never quite regain.

So how many Fort McMurrayites are there now? The boundaries commission asked the Alberta treasury for its own estimate—but that one is implausible too: it’s just the census figure minus about 9,000—an inference that “arises solely from the fact that 2,000 homes were destroyed in the fire.” This figure assumes that everybody who lost a home is gone from the city for good—an assumption that is patently untrue, and not much use for a commission that has to make reasonable election maps to last a decade.

So the present population of Ft. McMurray turns out to be irritatingly uncertain, and even if we knew it, no one can guess how much the city will rebound within the next year, or two, or five. The commission, trapped in a dead end of data, begs the public for “specific, reliable information upon which it could act.”

Fortunately, this problem mostly effects how two particular northern ridings will be split up, so the commission was able to devise provisional election boundaries for most of the province without worry. The rest of the report tells the typical story of a decade of Alberta population evolution. The cities of Edmonton and Calgary gain one extra seat apiece: Calgary was eligible for almost exactly one and a half, but is getting just one. The strongly Edmonton-centric NDP government will like that, but the fast-growing commuter zone between Calgary and the Rockies—a picturesque land of cowboy hipsters that is not quite “suburbia”—is also getting an extra seat.

One of the commissioners, the Carstairs businesswoman and artist Gwen Day, has filed a minority report arguing against this small (but possibly important) shift of voting power to the cities. Normally any sign of dissent within a boundaries commission is taken as a bad sign, but in this case one detects a simple determination to ignore the making of an embarrassing scene. Rural ridings everywhere in Canada often have a little extra power because of travel considerations, which ought to be weaker in abundantly-paved Alberta than they are almost anywhere else. But Day offers an entertaining novelty: “The concept of ‘one person, one vote’ is not a Canadian construct,” she argues.

She comes awfully close to saying that the votes of rural residents should count for more because rural people are more important humans. Day declares that Alberta has three kinds of economic activity: “primary industries” mostly in the countryside, “service industries” allegedly “driven by” the primary ones, and industries funded by tax dollars. I am not quite sure how department stores or Chinese restaurants fit in to this scheme, but it leads her to proclaim that “Rural Albertans control the land, access to the land and provide a significant portion of the labor force that most of our primary industries depend on.”

It is a wonder, one is left thinking, that city folk are allowed to vote at all; fortunately, the other commissioners chose not to embrace petro-agrarian fascism. I also appreciated that the majority is calling a halt to the odious practice of naming election constituencies after well-liked dead politicians, which is how we have ended up with a “Calgary-Klein” and a “Dunvegan-Central Peace-Notley” commemorating the father of the current premier.

Some Calgarians wanted to create a “Calgary-Bhullar” to commemorate Manmeet Bhullar, the young MLA killed in a road accident in 2015 while helping victims of an earlier collision. The commission said an apologetic no, noting that a school named for Bhullar is under construction, and states that electoral ridings should be given party-neutral, geographically descriptive names from now on. Manmeet Bhullar was a gem, but the commission’s suggested rule is the proper one, and its members’ resistance to sentiment should be applauded.

Those old terrorist tendencies – 19th Century

Valid points, reminder that extremism, terrorism and radicalization have long been with us, with just the particular ‘flavour’ being different:

It helps us understand lone terror improvisers of today to look at their forebears in the mass, as provided by the forgotten history of the 19th century. Certainly, it reminds us that our time is just a great deal less violent. And it suggests that Islam is more or less an excuse, a convenient outlet for revolutionary fervour. But the main lesson we instinctively know already: that the trick is not to let terror take hold of us, to maintain our democratic temperament in the face of what are essentially accidents.

Those old terrorist tendencies.

Refugee health cuts: Not cruel but unusual – Colby Cosh

Colby Cosh takes a self-critical look at journalists and commentators on how they influenced the refugee claimant healthcare decision:

This is pleasing to the ego, yet I am not as confident as Justice Mactavish that the Conservative cuts to the old refugee health arrangements are shocking to Canadians. One obvious problem with using pundits as an index of conscience is that people who are angry about something will write about it, and people who aren’t, won’t.

The old IFHP provided not only the health care ordinarily given free to citizens by the provinces, but also extra entitlements working Canadians typically devote part of their paycheques to, including drug coverage, vision care, dentistry and contraception. Refugee claimants typically became eligible for IFHP immediately upon setting foot in the country—and remained eligible until they were removed from Canada, even if their refugee claims failed. ….

These [diabetic Afghan, Colombian eye surgery] are hard cases that could have been rectified by means of modest tweaks. Justice Mactavish instead threw out the whole 2012 IFHP revision, citing a further panoply of ill-documented or downright hypothetical cases in which the effects of the revised IFHP might also be “cruel and unusual.”

This procedure has met with near-universal approval from journalists. We, after all, sort of helped write the ruling. But what if the Conservatives run against it in 2015, challenging the media’s reading of the nation’s “general conscience”. . . and they win? Should we really be so sure we speak for you?

Valid points, but part of the role of journalists is to draw issues to our attention, and the decision likely relied more on the testimony of doctors and healthcare experts than journalists. And the Government, as in so many cases, by aiming for simple and simplistic solutions, along with its apparent lack of evidence (not to mention rhetoric), did not help itself. Refugee health cuts: Not cruel but unusual.

Calgary Mayor Nenshi’s diversity problem

I am not sure that greater attention to employment equity means that each and every group will argue for parity. That hasn’t been the case at the federal level, and there is something out of whack when senior management, in any organization, is monolithic:

Albertans really are colour-blind, most of ’em. They can afford to be. The province is an affluent land of individualistic, relatively independent farmers, entrepreneurs and non-union workers. But the broaching of racial grievance is not vexing only to those who are racists simpliciter. When well-meaning people hear the mayor talk about how there are not enough women and minorities in the upper ranks of Calgary’s government, they know perfectly well that, as soon as it does recruit some women and minorities, questions about minority women will follow. And then individual ethnic groups will start agitating for parity. And, before long, everybody is plunging into a thicket of mutually irresolvable claims and ad-hoc affirmative-action programs, with no one ever explicitly mentioning “quotas,” while overall institutional quality is neglected.

This is not what the mayor is proposing, but then, no one ever proposes such a thing explicitly. Nenshi’s complaint about city hall is obviously valid on its face—and yet the validity is quite irrelevant to the fears it will tend to arouse.

Nenshi’s diversity problem – Blog Central, Canada, Colby Cosh – Macleans.ca.