Richmond, B.C. politicians push Ottawa to address birth tourism and stop ‘passport mill’

More British Columbia media coverage of birth tourism, following a recent poll and my release of the CIHI data:

One in four births taking place at Richmond Hospital involve an international mother, according to new statistics.

So-called “birth tourism” is a controversial phenomenon in which expectant mothers from other countries come to Canada for the purpose of accessing a Canadian passport for their newborn babies and skipping the standard immigration processes.

“It’s perceived as an abuse of birthright citizenship,” said Andrew Griffith, a former director of Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada who is currently a fellow at the Environics Institute.

“Birthright citizenship was really designed for people who moved to Canada, who immigrated to Canada, gave birth to their children, so their children would automatically have Canadian citizenship,” Griffith said. “It was never designed for a world where you could stay in a birth hotel or a hostel, give birth and fly back to your country of origin.”

Over the last couple of years, Griffith has been collecting numbers from the Canadian Institute for Health Information, which compiles data from hospitals across the country, excluding Quebec.

Non-resident births chart

A chart Griffith created shows a 10-year trend of births by non-residents and reveals an upward curve of the practice.

Griffith notes that the term “non-resident,” in this data can also refer to international students and foreign workers. He estimates birth tourists account for roughly half of the non-resident births.

The new numbers show the 2019-2020 fiscal year and don’t include the majority of the months during the COVID-19 pandemic.

They reveal that births by non-residents made up 24 per cent of the deliveries at Richmond Hospital, a slight uptick from the year before.

The numbers jumped by more than a third for St. Paul’s and and Mount Saint Joseph hospitals in Vancouver, where non-residents made up 14 per cent of the total births.

Non-resident births data

“What I find interesting is that I haven’t seen really any similar outcry in any other community – even in those centres where there seems to be fairly high numbers of non-resident births – and I’m just not quite sure why that is, because it seems like the focus always is on Richmond,” he said.

Politicians from all three levels of government in Richmond have been pushing Ottawa to do more to stop the practice.

“We just feel that that is not fair, it really degrades the citizenship that we all enjoy,” said Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie.

He said the municipal government has been advocating that birth tourism be addressed, but those requests seem to have fallen on deaf ears.

“We can insist that those practices that are operating a business to house the birth tourists have a business licence. There’s not all that much more that we can do, other than keep highlighting the problem,” Brodie said.

Jas Johal, the BC Liberal MLA for Richmond-Queensborough, said the province can step in by increasing fees for international mothers to discourage the practice, but the responsibility lies with the federal government.

“One out of four children born at our hospital are foreign nationals – that’s not a hospital anymore, it’s a passport mill,” he said. “If you’re coming here to have a child on a tourist visa, well, guess what? That application for citizenship is null and void. A simple change like that would probably reduce, and probably eliminate, birth tourism in Canada.”

The two Conservative members of parliament for the area, Kenny Chiu and Alice Wong, have also voiced their objection to the practice.

Chiu’s office has been encouraging people to write letters to the immigration minister and offering to help deliver them.

A recent survey also found a majority of people would like the federal government set up a committee to address birth tourism.

CTV News Vancouver reached out to Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada regarding birth tourism, but did not receive a response before deadline. This story will be updated if a response is received.

And the poll from Researchco that prompted the coverage (IMO, questions are tendentious and leading, and the methodology is not that rigorous:
Many B.C. residents are tuned into the practice of birth tourism in Canada and most want the federal government to launch an investigation into it, a new poll suggests.

According to a survey conducted by Research Co., 49 per cent of B.C. residents have been following media coverage of birth tourism – a practice of travelling to a specific country for the purpose of giving birth and securing citizenship for the child.

Canada is one of fewer than three dozen countries that follow the practice of citizenship based on birthplace and some – including Australia and Britain – have modified or ended automatic birthright citizenship in recent years

“Almost half of British Columbians (49 per cent) are following stories about ‘birth tourism,’ compared to just 34 per cent of Albertans.”

But most B.C. residents polled don’t have favourable views of the practice.

According to the survey, 77 per cent of British Columbians say they feel birth tourism can be unfairly used to gain access to Canada’s education, health care and social programs. Meanwhile, 64 per cent worry that birth tourism could displace Canadians from hospitals.

Additionally, 67 per cent of those polled feel birth tourism “can degrade the value of Canadian citizenship,” while 71 per cent agree with the statement that the practice of granting birthright citizenship may have made sense at one point, “but now people have taken advantage of existing rules.”

With that, 82 per cent of B.C. residents said they agree with the federal government establishing a committee to investigate the extent of birth tourism in the country. Just eight per cent disagreed with the idea, while 12 per cent said they weren’t sure.

According to the nation-wide poll, however, support for a new approach to birthright citizenship in Canada is highest in Manitoba and Saskatchewan at 66 per cent. Alberta follows at 60 per cent, with B.C. standing at 56 per cent hoping for new regulations.

Results are based on an online study conducted from Aug. 28 to Aug. 30, 2020, among 1,000 adults in Canada. The margin of error—which measures sample variability—is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.


Link to poll data:

‘Birth tourism’ rising fast in Canada; up 13 per cent in one year

Article based on the latest numbers and analysis:

Canada’s reputation as a hotspot for birth tourism is rising fast, with new data reporting a 13 per cent increase in one year.

“It’s going up faster than immigration rates, faster than the overall population of Canada,” Andrew Griffith, a fellow at the Environics Institute and the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said in a telephone interview with CTV News.


Birth tourism is the practice by which babies are born in Canada to non-residents so they can receive automatic citizenship without having to go through standard immigration processes. Griffith follows the phenomenon closely as part of his research.

The 13 per cent increase was found in data Griffith collected from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), which based it on information from hospitals across the country, excluding Quebec.

Their research shows a steady increase in births to non-residents from 2008 to 2017-18, and then a 13 per cent jump after that. According to CIHI, there were 1,354 non-resident births in 2010 and 4,099 in the 12-month period ending March 2019 – representing 1.4 per cent of all births in Canada during that time.

Non-resident births

While some of the reported births involve international students and non-residents transferred to Canada for work, Griffith said he believes the majority of these cases involve mothers who travelled to Canada for the express purpose of giving birth.

“The laws were never intended for people to fly in and fly out,” he said.

Under Canadian law, children born in the country are automatically registered as citizens of Canada. This entitles them to Canadian post-secondary tuition rates, which are lower than what non-resident students pay, and allows them to sponsor their parents to come to Canada.

Brokers advertise Canada as one of the few developed countries in the world that offers unconditional citizen to babies of parents who are not citizens. Some immigration brokers explicitly note that children born in Canada will be able to enjoy benefits such as free education and other social programs, as well as travel to the country visa-free.


According to CIHI, the 10 hospitals where non-resident births make up the biggest proportion of total births are all in Ontario and B.C.

The Richmond Hospital in Richmond, B.C., topped the charts in 2018-19, with the 454 births to non-resident mothers there representing 23 per cent of all births at the hospital. Three other hospitals were over 10 per cent: Mackenzie Richmond Hill Hospital in Richmond Hill, Ont., Birchmount Hospital in Toronto and St. Paul’s and Mount St. Joseph Hospital in Vancouver.

Non-resident births by hospital

Dr. Fiona Mattatal, a Calgary-based obstetrician and gynecologist, has noticed a similar trend in her province. CIHI reports that there were 263 non-resident births in Alberta in 2018 – a 13 per cent increase over the previous year, and more than triple the number recorded in 2010.

“(The data) mirrors what we see on the front lines,” she said.

Mattatal said non-resident births lead to ethical disagreements and practical concerns, in part because hospital budget planning does not take these births into account.

“Our system is not built to provide services (for) people (from) out of the country,” she said.

“I’m worried as someone in the health-care system, we are already dealing with cutbacks. (Birth tourism) is causing strain in the system, and we are helpless to do anything about it.”

Non-resident births

Sometimes hospitals find themselves unable to collect payment for maternity services, and have to hire collection agencies to go after the mothers.

“This is going to be an issue Canadians are going to have to discuss,” Mattatal said.


According to an Angus Reid survey taken in March, 64 per cent of surveyed Canadians say a child born to parents who are in Canada on tourism visas should not be granted Canadian citizenship. Sixty per cent say they want to see laws changed to discourage birth tourism.

In a bid to discourage the practice, Hospitals in Calgary instituted a new policy this summer. Non-residents are now told to pay a $15,000 up-front deposit for prenatal delivery and postnatal care. Additional charges are also levied for hospital services.

Mattatal said the deposit requirement made a difference at the one hospital that tested it out, although she suspects non-resident mothers may have simply moved to other hospitals.

A wider-scale solution could be to end birthright citizenship entirely, as U.S. President Donald Trump has said he will do in the United States. Australia has also introduced more stringent requirements, only granting citizenship when children born in that country have at least one citizen or permanent resident parent – and even then, the child must live in Australia for 10 years after birth.

Canadian Conservative Party members voted at a convention last year to make a ban on birthright citizenship to babies born to non-resident parents party policy, but the issue has not been raised since the election was called.

How a false W5 story 40 years ago became a watershed moment for Chinese-Canadians

Good historical reminder:

It still baffles me, the casual racism of the newscast.

The opening remarks of W5 host Helen Hutchinson sounded the alarm, her voice dripping with concern about a “scenario that would make a great many people in this country angry and resentful.”

In universities across the country, “foreign” students were taking the place of real Canadians in professional schools such as medicine, dentistry and pharmacy.

The camera panned to a pharmacy class at the University of Toronto showing the six Chinese students who were supposedly taking up space from Canadians. The problem was the featured “foreign students” were Canadians who were either born in Canada or had become citizens.

The statistics were also misleading: W5 said 100,000 foreign students were crowding Canadian schools when the reality was less than half that, with only 20,000 in universities. Besides, in some professional faculties such as pharmacy you had to be an Ontario resident to apply. Foreign students were not eligible.

Forty years ago in September, it didn’t make sense to the professional journalists on the nation’s most watched investigative news program that a student of Asian descent could also be Canadian.

The intention was clear: real Canadians couldn’t get into professional schools because of foreigners. A white student was interviewed who said she had good marks but couldn’t get into pharmacy because outsiders were taking her place.

But how could they have got it so wrong?

The story had an all too familiar angle. Earlier racist legislation used in the defence of a turn-of-the-century head tax against the Chinese community had warned that foreigners were taking away jobs or opportunities from Canadians. The W5 story was a new spin on the same wedge issue. Get ready to build that wall. Go back home to where you came from.

It did have one major but unintentional effect: it united a community. The segment would be a watershed moment for Chinese-Canadians, awakening a social and political consciousness that reverberates to this day.

Four decades later the media has evolved: seeing not one, but two Asian anchors nightly on CBC’s The National is a revelation.

But we are still grappling with issues of race. In an era when the president of the United States can use racism as an election platform, doubling and tripling down on telling four American congresswomen of colour to “go back home,” the lessons of W5 are worth repeating.

The “Campus Giveaway” story should be a required part of the curriculum of every journalism school. Because those lessons, it seems, aren’t easily learned.

Maclean’s in 2010 essentially recycled the “Campus Giveaway” story with a “Too Asian” cover story that controversially followed the plight of white students who didn’t want to study at a university with, well, too many Asians.

And in 2014, CTV seemed to learn nothing from past transgressions after I broke a story about racist tweets from a producer of one of its sitcoms, Spun Out. The network decided, as it did decades earlier, to stonewall on accepting responsibility, hoping it would just go away.

It’s a reminder that inclusivity is a work in progress. The Star most recently struck a diversity task force looking at how we report and how to include more diverse sources in our reporting, especially with the upcoming election. Unconscious bias is real.

But Asian Canadians have much to thank CTV for decades later.

The W5 show ignited a firestorm of protest from a once silent community, which picketed the broadcaster demanding an apology. It brought together the community in a way that events never really had before.

There is so much wrong with the program it’s hard to figure out where to begin. That includes outrageous shots of a Chinese-Canadian students association meeting with a voice-over stating, “There are so many foreign Oriental students it’s like there are two campuses … at this meeting not one Canadian student attended.”

The story also attracted the key support of political leaders such as Bob Rae and Stephen Lewis, who narrated a devastating rebuttal of the show.

On a personal level, it encouraged me to apply to journalism school. It made me understand that voices matter. Change is a slow burn. When I started at the Star, Canada’s largest circulation newspaper, I was the first staff writer of Chinese descent, which was surprising since it was 1987, not 1887.

CTV’s bungled attempt to create division and controversy under the guise of investigative journalism helped fire up a generation of superstar leaders including Dr. Joseph Wong, who would earn an Order of Canada for his community work, and Susan Eng, who would end up as the chair of the Toronto police services board. Significant community and political leaders such as former MP Olivia Chow; Dora Nip, the president of the Multicultural History Society of Ontario; and the civic firebrands and sisters Amy and Avvy Go rose from the ashes of protest.

The influential civil rights group the Chinese Canadian National Council was also formed because of the show. The organization, headed by the dynamic Wong as the first national president, would crucially go on to fight for other issues, including a redress for head taxes on Chinese Canadians and to support other marginalized communities. To mark the 40th anniversary of the W5 program, Wong said the CCNC would be rebooted, with a particular interest in youth, social justice and equality issues.

CTV did eventually apologize, months later, under threat of a lawsuit.

“Right after the program was broadcast our critics, particularly Chinese-Canadians and the universities, criticized the program as racist: they were right,” said CTV executive Murray Chercover at the time. “There is no doubt that the distorted statistics combined with visual presentation made the program appear racist in tone and effect.”

Given the heated and divisive rhetoric over immigration at home and abroad, it’s a lesson worth remembering decades later.

Short Interview Clip on CTV on Quebec Values Charter and Recent Mosque Vandalization

For those interested, at about the 9 min mark.