Contact tracing must not compound historical discrimination

Good discussion of some of the issues involved:

Governments seem likely to adopt tracing apps as a part of the new normal in the fight against infection during a pandemic. This week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Ottawa had “a number of proposals and companies working on different models,” and that “there are possibilities around using voluntary measures.” Unfortunately, the use of these tracing aps will not be genuinely optional or voluntary for most users. Perhaps more importantly, the technical frameworks that are currently under development must be configured in such a way that the historical discrimination of minority groups is not compounded by governments’ implementation of tracing policy.

Research suggests that these apps will be installed on mobile phones and designed to work in concert with smartphone operating systems to alert the phone’s owner if they have been in close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19. The apps will probably rely on the opt-in COVID-19 tracing technical frameworks that were jointly announced by Apple and Google, and let individuals reveal their COVID-19 status as well as potentially inform them about people or places that carry higher risks of infections.

A significant amount of attention has been given to the privacy and security issues associated with these apps as well as whether the tracing apps will be sufficiently accurate to warrant using them in the first place. If governments approve their use, there may be strong legal or social pressures for individuals to use them and so it is critical for policymakers to start developing equitable policies and not justify the adoption of apps on the basis that individuals have opted-in to their use.

Opt-in mechanisms are intended to give individuals control over how their personal information is handled. Apple’s and Google’s operating systems already let individuals choose whether to share their information when they install a new game or productivity app on a device. These companies’ health surveillance functionalities will replicate this existing freedom of choice model. COVID-19 related proximity information will not be collected or shared without a smartphone user having first consented to the activity.

Meaningful consent to these companies’ health surveillance must involve giving individuals a certain level of understandable information about a tracing app’s data practices. However, policy-makers cannot be focused exclusively on a narrow understanding of consent. They must go further.

Government compulsions to opt in

Governments may decide that contact tracing apps can help to contain COVID-19’s spread once sufficient testing is available for both symptomatic and asymptomatic cases. If public safety officers are tasked with enforcing social distancing or self-quarantine orders they might demand that individuals reveal their COVID-19 status. The possibility of such an encounter with law enforcement officers, in particular, will implicitly encourage Canadians to use tracing apps. With an unlocked phone in hand, officers may go on fishing expeditions to search for potentially unlawful communications or activities.

Officers asking about individuals’ COVID-19 status may be particularly concerning to minority groups subjected to carding or to enhanced and often illegal searches. Members of over-policed groups may also feel particularly compelled to opt in to using COVID-19 apps due to concerns about how police will treat them if the apps are not installed.

Moreover, tracing apps may not be optional if individuals must reveal their COVID-19 status before entering government buildings or using public services or spaces. In such circumstances, it is conceivable that individuals would be compelled to use the apps to obtain licenses, use public transit or pass through public parks.

Private business and compulsions to opt in

Private organizations will likely have clients reveal their COVID-19 status before entering a store. If you must show your status to enter a grocery store, it is no longer optional. Sometimes clients may be unable to reveal their status – they may not own a phone or have lost it and be unable to purchase another – or they may not want to reveal their status on the basis of potentially negative consequences. For example, clients of food banks may be unwilling to reveal their COVID-19 status at all and be motivated to present fake information to avoid the chance that they will be prevented from accessing a food bank for food.

Employers may also want to know their employees’ COVID-19 status to protect or manage their workforce. Any employee who has been in contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19 might be barred from the workplace until they undergo self-quarantine or receive negative test results. Where employers lack robust stay-at-home policies or if accessing a worksite is a condition of continuing to receive a salary, there is a risk that individuals will attempt to evade health surveillance.

Towards inclusive policy options

Canadians have demonstrated a relatively high-degree of trust in their political and health leaders throughout the pandemic. However, trust in law enforcement bodies and health bodies is considerably lower for some. The technological infrastructure being developed by Apple and Google will not resolve these historical tensions. If governments choose this path, then they must face these tensions directly.

First, governments should not empower police to view individuals’ COVID-19 status but, if they do, they must prevent officers from turning status checks into smartphone fishing expeditions. As well, public officials who review an individual’s tracing app should be required to record and publicly report the gender and ethnicity and provide an explicit rationale for assessing their COVID-19 status.

Second, policy-makers must work with organizations representing historically disenfranchised groups to develop policies which ensure members of the public can reliably access government buildings and services. Anti-poverty, homeless and addiction advocates should be consulted to determine how government services and infrastructure can continue being offered to persons who may lack access to smartphones or for cases when they may be COVID-19 positive or potentially infected.

Third, governments could subsidize the costs associated with an employee’s self-isolation or self-quarantine. Not all employees have paid sick leave that extends to self-isolation or benefits that cover the entirety of an employee’s sick leave over the course of recovering from COVID-19. Without generous sick leave policies, employees may be motivated to find ways to be at work even if their app indicates they are ill.

Fourth, any government-sanctioned tracing app must provide information for Canadians to meaningfully opt in to any health surveillance. Privacy commissioners and health officials could be tasked with ensuring that apps clearly and accurately explain an app’s anonymization measures, how COVID-19 risk assessments are generated and disclosed and the effectiveness of the app in tracing the spread of the disease.

It’s clear the apps that use Apple’s and Google’s technical frameworks are unlikely to be truly voluntary or opt-in. While neither company’s promised frameworks are presently available for developers to use, this does give policy-makers time to design ones that are inclusive. It is time they start their drafting and planning for this hypothetical tracing app future so that, if it does come to pass, any policies will avoid compounding historical discrimination.

Source: Contact tracing must not compound historical discrimination

More research needed to break down job barriers for racialized Canadians

While the specific suggestions have merit, I think it would be more productive to focus on the effective of existing policies and programs in addressing gaps and challenges:

To improve understanding and pathways for progress, researchers should continue and expand work in several areas, including the following:

  • more disaggregated data to allow us to better understand the experience of different populations within the categories of “visible minority” or “immigrant”;
  • greater focus on the impact of bias, discrimination and systemic barriers in the employment system rather than focusing solely on how job seekers can be better “adjusted” for the labour market;
  • a better understanding of who does what in areas like language training, bridging and other occupational programs, so that we can develop better data on what works for whom;
  • greater examination of how policies in the selection of immigrants, in settlement support and in training programs affect newcomers’ opportunities, and of how these policies can be aligned with employers’ needs; and
  • more examination of ways to promote innovative employer practices to recruit, advance and create inclusive environments for newcomers and racialized Canadians.

The great number of underemployed newcomers and racialized Canadians represents a significant opportunity for Canada’s employers and for the economy more generally. By further investigating these questions, we can help to ensure that all Canadians are able to seize, and benefit from, the opportunities presented by a future of work that is more diverse and inclusive.

Source: More research needed to break down job barriers for racialized Canadians

What policy issues will define our next 40 years of publishing? Policy Options at 40

Good and useful contrast by Jennifer Ditchburn between what has changed and what has remained the same:

Flipping through back copies of Policy Options from 1980, the year the magazine was founded, there’s a distinct feeling of déjà vu.

There are headlines such as,

“How Best to Live with the United States;”

“The Liberal Vacuum in the West;”

“Canada Needs to be Self-sufficient in Oil.”

The State of the Legislative Process in Canada”

“Since the election there has been more bemoaning than ever of the structural malformation of the Canadian body politics, with one main party rootless in Quebec and the other almost alien to Western Canada,” wrote founding editor-in-chief Tom Kent, the legendary public policy thinker and journalist, of the two main parties.

“What is worrisome is the strengthened fear that the fundamental reason why it seems unchangeable is that people in both those regions increasingly doubt whether federal politics matter much anyway.”

In 1980, as in 2020, the country was in a period of intergovernmental malaise and coming out of an election. The first referendum on Quebec sovereignty was held in May 1980. The notorious National Energy Program was inaugurated that year, and Pierre Trudeau, prime minister at the time, opened the 32nd Parliament with not a single Liberal MP from BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan, and only two in Manitoba.

By the fall of 1980, Trudeau had announced his intention to approach the United Kingdom unilaterally to seek the patriation of the Constitution – sparking more than a year of constitutional negotiations with premiers, and mobilizing Indigenous leaders to make sure their treaty and inherent rights were respected.

There is always something bizarrely comforting about spotting familiar patterns in Canada’s past: How many times do we hear the phrase “plus ça change, plus c’est pareil” in reference to our political history? Meanwhile, people who weren’t yet born during the years of the National Energy Program or The Night of Long Knives can reference those grievances and find the echoes in our contemporary frictions. Yes, old policy and political mistakes can cast long shadows.

But here’s the thing: Canada in 2020 is nothing like the Canada of 1980, and we should be careful not to use old maps to orient ourselves as we move into the next decade. Our country is more urban and suburban, more ethnoculturally diverse, and also getting proportionately older.

Susan Gibson, then with Ontario’s Status of Women Council, wrote in 1980 about the hiring and promotion of women in the public service that, “it is clear that substantive improvement in the status of women Crown employees still lies in the future.” At the time, Gibson said there were no women deputy ministers in Ontario, and only 1.38 percent in senior positions. By 2017, women accounted for 30.4 percent of Ontario deputy ministers and about half of other executive levels, according to an employee survey from that year.

Reading through those issues of Policy Options from 1980, a few things were notably absent.

John F. Graham, the late Dalhousie University professor and economist, was the only person that year to discuss environmental concerns.

“We now…face the prospect in the not very distance future of very low, zero, or negative economic growth resulting from a combination of exhaustion of natural resources and suicidal environmental damage,” he wrote.

The impact of technology is referenced, but in the “boob tube” style of the 1980s – which was to bemoan the impact of television on Canadian public discourse. Who could have envisioned the way our lives and our economy would change with the advent of the smartphone, social media platforms and advancing artificial intelligence?

Indigenous rights and the Crown’s treaty obligations do not figure in the numerous articles about federalism and intergovernmental affairs. Although a vast amount of work remains to be done to fulfil the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and to restore a true nation-to-nation relationship, decolonization was simply not a topic of policy conversation in non-Indigenous circles 40 years ago.

Plus ça change, well, ça change.

Yes, we are in another phase of discontent within the Canadian federation, but it is impossible to consider this time in Canadian history without also looking outside of our borders. Where the issues eloquently explored in this magazine in 1980 dealt principally with federal-provincial, industrial and Canada-US policy, almost all the challenges before us today have a global dimension.

While the federal government and the premiers tussle over carbon pricing and support for the energy sector, the overarching question is whether the world’s nations collectively will act quickly enough to curb the catastrophic rise in global temperatures. (The results of the COP 25 conference in Madrid last month bode poorly.)

The suitability of the equalization program and stabilization fund are on the First Ministers’ agenda, but the bigger picture about the Canadian economy hinges on the disruptive forces of automation, artificial intelligence and the impact of climate change down the road. As the federal government’s foresight agency Policy Horizons pointed out in a recent report, it’s unclear what skills workers will need in the future, and also how taxes will be collected as jobs becoming increasingly virtual.

Yes, Canada’s relationship with the United States remains a perpetual policy preoccupation, but now it is overlaid with concerns over how to fill the vacuum Washington has left in international multilateral institutions and counterbalance the growing influence of China.

Even when we talk about the health of our democracy, the future leadership of the Conservative Party, and other Canadian political issues, we have to consider the wider context of disinformation and borderless social media platforms, populist trends worldwide, and the microtargeting of voters through the use of their own data.

Over the next year, we will be re-publishing some of the articles that appeared in 1980, along with responses to the material from 2020. As the current editor-in-chief, I can’t help but wonder which issues just barely appearing on our radar now will be fundamentally shaping Canada in the years to come.

Source: What policy issues will define our next 40 years of publishing?Policy Options at 40

Douglas Todd: How the election is playing out in local Chinese-language media

More in-depth look at Chinese-language media election and related coverage:

The conflict between Hong Kong and China. The pros and cons of immigration and refugees. Beliefs on abortion and same-sex issues. The tension between paying taxes and benefiting from social services.

Specialists who monitor Canada’s roughly 290 Chinese-language newspapers, websites, radio stations and TV channels say the political coverage not only echoes the mainstream media, it also reveals the distinct concerns of people with origins in East Asia.

Immigration and refugee issues garner more attention in the Chinese-language media than they do among the general Canadian public, say professional observers.

And even though Chinese-Canadians with roots in Hong Kong, Taiwan and China show a complex range of political opinions, Andrew Griffith, a former senior director in Ottawa’s immigration department, has concluded: “There is more of a conservative trend among Chinese-Canadians than, for example, South Asians.”

Like other Canadians, the 1.3 million people of Chinese origin switch party allegiances according to broader political patterns, said Griffith, who works with Diversityvotes.ca, a website highlighting political coverage in the country’s ethnic media. But their votes could make a crucial difference in dozens of urban swing ridings with large immigrant and visible-minority populations.

Roughly three out of four Chinese-Canadians live in either Greater Toronto, where they make up 11 per cent of voters, or Metro Vancouver, where they account for 20 per cent of voters. In the Vancouver suburb of Richmond, which has two federal ridings, 54 per cent of the population is ethnic Chinese.

Andres Malchaski, president of MIREMS International, which monitors the ethnic-language media and helped create Diversityvotes.ca, says that, while a large portion of Canadians tell pollsters the environment is their top election issue, that issue is far outweighed in the Chinese-language media by debates over immigration and refugees.

Chinese-Canadian media outlets, including their discussion forums, contain frequent criticism of Liberal leader Justin Trudeau for bringing in more than 60,000 Syrian refugees since 2015, said Machalski, who has analyzed Canada’s ethnic media for three decades.

Media outlets that target Canadians from China are often wary of refugees from Muslim countries, Machalski said, an attitude that reflects the way China’s authoritarian leaders have restricted the religious freedom of millions of Uighur Muslims.

“The feelings expressed by some of the calls and comments on phone-in shows and in newspaper columns (in Canada) certainly support the idea there will be segments of Chinese voters that might even go so far as to support the People’s Party of Canada,” which is calling for reducing immigration and refugee levels, Machalski said.

Still, Machalski emphasized that the views expressed in the Chinese-language outlets in Canada offer a “kaleidoscope” of perspectives, which often reflect whether their respective audiences are connected to Hong Kong, Taiwan, Hanoi or Beijing.

That is especially so in regards to the recent anti-Beijing protests in the financial centre of Hong Kong.

More than 300,000 people living in Hong Kong hold Canadian passports — and Oct. 21 marks the first Canadian election in which they can cast a ballot, says a Diversityvotes.ca article by Blythe Irwin.

The Chinese media is picking up on everything Canadian politicians are saying about the special administrative region of China. Ethnic-Chinese media commentators, she says, are both approving and sceptical of the way Trudeau says he is “extremely concerned” about Hong Kong, while Conservative leader Andrew Scheer went further by declaring in a tweet: “We are all Hong Kongers.”

Fenella Sung, a former Chinese-language radio show host, said that Chinese-media perspectives about the conflict largely reflect whether the Canadian-based outlets are aimed at audiences rooted in Hong Kong or China.

It’s not surprising that readers of media directed at the large mainland-Chinese population in Canada “would think the Hong Kong issue is China’s internal affair and that it would not be appropriate for Canadian politicians to comment,” said Sung, who is a member of Canadian Friends of Hong Kong.

Long-time immigrants from Hong Kong, Taiwan and other parts of East Asia, Sung said, tend to have political concerns that are in line with Canadians at large, such as jobs, housing and protecting the environment.

“But newer and younger immigrants, mostly from mainland China, are very consistent and focussed on economic growth, expansion of trade, less government bureaucracy, and lower taxation. They don’t like social spending.”

Prior to the B.C. election in 2016, some opinion polls suggested that, even while the province’s more than 500,000 ethnic Chinese voters held diverse views, they generally leaned to the centre-right B.C. Liberals, and had almost no interest in the Greens.

In an article on politics and Canada’s ethnic media published Wednesday in Policy Options magazine, Griffith said Liberal and Conservative party approaches to same-sex marriage and abortion have been widely commented upon, suggesting so-called “family values” are important to many recent immigrants and people of colour.

“While the Liberals and Conservatives get widespread coverage of their electoral promises and commitments, the NDP and Green Party are under-covered,” Griffith added, after reviewing 1,200 recent articles in the ethnic media.

“In contrast, the People’s Party of Canada, given its focus on restricting immigration and its initial exclusion from the leaders’ debate, received more than twice as much substantive coverage as the NDP and Greens combined.”

Chinese-language and other ethnic media outlets in Canada don’t necessarily reinforce cultural silos, Griffith says. But it’s clear they also offer a special window into political discussions of particular concern to certain ethnic groups.

Source: Douglas Todd: How the election is playing out in local Chinese-language media

How does ethnic media campaign coverage differ? My analysis in Policy Options

Drawing on over 1200 ethnic media pieces in the eight weeks prior to the election call as part of diversityvotes.ca, my analysis assesses the major themes and issues covered:

Canadians who rely on ethnic media as their main information source receive coverage of issues comparable to that of mainstream media.

A major focus of this 2019 election for the various campaigns will be courting voters from immigrant and visible minority communities, who are a majority of the population in 41 ridings, and 20 percent or more in an additional 93 ridings.

For full article: How does ethnic media campaign coverage differ?

Citizenship policy challenges the next government will face – My latest

Citizenship is the neglected child of immigration-related policies. It attracts less attention, and it has a lower profile and fewer resources than other areas. This is evidenced by wide swings in the number of new citizens, periodic funding shortfalls and the paucity of data, compared with that for immigration.

….

Full text: Citizenship policy challenges the next government will face

Revoking birthright citizenship would affect everyone: Jamie Liew

Jamie Liew, an immigration lawyer and law professor, responds to my article, providing the “what’s the problem” perspective, noting the relatively small number as percentage of total births (and immigrants) and the likely impact on all Canadians.

However, the only option she mentions is that of requiring all Canadians to apply for citizenship. Yet when the previous government pressed unsuccessfully to abolish birthright citizenship, the other option of having the provinces apply the policy through the birth registration process was favoured at it would not impose that burden on all Canadians (see What the previous government learned about birth tourism). The provinces refused given the smaller numbers at the time (estimated at 500) and the associated costs.

However, just as the provinces were able to issue enhanced drivers licences with citizenship status as a way to make it easier for Canadians to travel to the US without a passport following 911, the provinces could do the same with birth certificates, although this would also be costly given the operational implications.

Of course, any such change would require addressing statelessness, as the previous government did with respect to citizenship revocation in cases of terrorism or treason. The examples cited of the number of persons possibly being effected are, in my opinion, exaggerated.

I find it somewhat tiresome to hear arguments that such a policy is inherently divisive, discriminatory and arguably racist. Even if some opposed to birthright citizenship may be driven by xenophobia, advocating such a policy or other changes to reduced the practice is not inherently xenophobic. It simply aims at avoiding abuse of birthright citizenship of those who come simply to give birth, obtain citizenship for their child, and then return to their country of origin.

One can argue on whether or not such a fundamental change to birthright citizenship is warranted (I don’t favour this option at present) but largely dismissing the issue and overstating collateral impacts are less than helpful to informed public discussion.

It is encouraging that the government has acknowledged the issue, agreed to study the issue, and engage the same organization to conduct the study that I obtained the numbers cited in my article (Canadian Institutes of Health Information):

There has been a lot of talk about getting rid of birthright citizenship in Canada and the United States. President Trump recently announced he will issue an executive order that would do away with automatic citizenship for babies born in the US. Conservative Party of Canada members passed a motion last August that would end birthright citizenship unless one parent is a citizen or permanent resident, should the party form government. And Liberal MP Joe Peschisolido has sponsored a petition to eliminate birthright citizenship.

In the US, the president will have to contend with the fact that he cannot just unilaterally eliminate a right in the 14th Amendment of the Constitution. In Canada, however, the story is different: birthright citizenship can be eliminated simply by amending or repealing parts of the Citizenship Act.

In both the US and Canada, 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.

Andrew Griffith, a former director general at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada recently analyzed hospital financial data for Policy Options, and noted that a sharp rise in birth tourism in some Canadian hospitals can no longer be considered “insignificant.” Still, Griffith found that only 1.2 percent of births can be attributed to mothers who reside outside of Canada. The figure might actually be lower if births to other temporary residents such as corporate transferees and international students and Canadian expatriates returning to give birth are factored in.

While there appears to be an increasing trend, the low overall levels suggest there is no business case for changing Canada’s citizenship policy. Eliminating or even creating a “graduated” birthright citizenship on this basis would be akin to an enormous hammer hitting a tiny nail.

The elimination of birthright citizenship would affect not just migrants, but all of us. A citizenship application will need to be made for every person born in Canada. 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 that 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 the people affected. People would struggle with the fact that they are stateless in the interim.

Undoubtedly, doing away with birthright citizenship would increase the number of stateless persons in Canada. Being stateless has serious implications. Stateless persons have difficulty accessing education, employment, health care, social services and freedom of movement. Simple things like obtaining a bank account, cell phone 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 before.

The elimination of birthright citizenship would have the greatest impact on the most vulnerable: the indigent, those with mental illness, and children who are in precarious family situations or are wards of the state. These are the people that may not have the appropriate paperwork or proof that they do qualify for citizenship or do not have support for obtaining citizenship. For example, parents (who are Canadian citizens or permanent residents) of persons seeking citizenship may have lost paperwork, may not want to cooperate, may not be in the country, or may find out they are not the biological parent of that child.

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

The elimination of birthright citizenship is not an act to preserve or protect the integrity of citizenship. The policy would be a dividing tool. Ending birthright citizenship would legitimize the argument that racialized persons are less deserving of citizenship, even though there is no evidence to show that children born of foreign mothers do not stay in Canada and do not contribute to society. The policy would also fuel discrimination against those of different socio-economic classes, because the most vulnerable and marginalized would have the most difficulty in accessing citizenship, or if they are citizens proving that they are. These administratively stateless people would be treated like foreigners and outsiders, even though they are eligible and qualify for citizenship. It is a tool to delegitimize people 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 elsewhere in the world has encouraged discrimination, persecution and violence against stateless people. For example, the oppression of Rohingya and the genocide against them was precipitated by their being denied citizenship in Myanmar, a country they called home for generations.

Canadians should be cautious when considering the idea of getting rid of birthright citizenship. It would not 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 people into our country. If there are issues with the authorization of persons entering our country, it is immigration law that should be tweaked, not citizenship law.

Canada has signed both the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which obligate Canada not to create situations of statelessness. My father was born stateless because the state he was born into did not confer birthright citizenship. It affected his opportunity for education and employment, as well as his mental health. Being a child of a previously stateless person, I am proof enough that welcoming stateless people to Canada with the conferral of citizenship is the best way to build a nation.

Source: Revoking birthright citizenship would affect everyone

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

 

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 

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