Who do we see in Canadian children’s books? The Star’s second annual diversity survey tells the story

Good to have this survey and encouraging to see incremental progress:

Exclusive numbers gathered by the Toronto Star for the second year in a row show that, while the voices represented in children’s books published in this country are still overwhelmingly white, other voices are gaining incrementally.

Overall, publishers reported that, in 2019, 419 books with a Canadian author or illustrator were published in Canada, featuring 525 main characters.

Of those books, 37.5 per cent feature main characters who are white, a decrease of 8.2 per cent over 2018, while 29.3 per cent have main characters who are Black, Indigenous, East Asian or South Asian, an increase of 4.9 per cent over the previous year.

“I’m not surprised by what could be described as incremental change between the … surveys,” says Kate Edwards, executive director of the Association of Canadian Publishers. “Publishers typically work a couple of years in advance (sometimes more) and I expect we’ll see more change over time.”

The Star first took a snapshot of diversity in Canadian children’s book publishing last year, looking at the 2018 publishing year, with a Canadian book identified as being published in Canada and having a Canadian author or illustrator.

At the time, in a variety of interviews and conversations, a common message was being heard: that people of colour didn’t see themselves represented in the kids books published here. There was no official Canadian measurement of those books, but there was one in the U.S.

The Cooperative Children’s Book Centre in Wisconsin began tracking in 1985 how many books were published in the U.S. and, of those, how many were by Black authors and illustrators. Over time, they expanded to include First Nations, Asian/Pacific creators and others, developing a body of data.

“These numbers are important because they help create a framework from which we can work toward greater accountability in the children’s literature publishing industry,” says Rabia Khokhar, a teacher/librarian with the Toronto District School Board. “The numbers are a form of documentation and help us recognize where we are and where we need to continue striving to move toward.”

Last year, 76 per cent of publishers who were sent the survey replied; this year the response rate was still high at about 70 per cent. Those who didn’t respond were generally small publishers, some of whom may not have published any children’s books in 2019.

In the survey, we asked: How many Canadian-authored and/or illustrated children’s books did they publish in 2019 in three categories: Picture Books (ages zero to 8), Middle Grade Books (ages eight to 12) and Young Adult Books (ages 13 and older).

We then asked them to break down for each of those categories how many featured main characters who identified as one of the following: Black; Indigenous; East Asian; South Asian; white; other ethnicity; or animals (no ethnicity). We kept to main characters because if there is a white main character with non-white characters in only minor roles, the white person is still the dominant character.

Separately, we asked, for each category, how many were LGBTQ characters, visibly disabled characters and invisibly disabled (mental illness, learning disabilities).

Overall, white characters still make up the bulk of main characters with 197 of 525, or 37.5 per cent of all main characters, being white. That is, however, a drop from last year of 8.2 per cent.

Also overall, 154 books, or 29.3 per cent, contained main characters who were Black, Indigenous, South Asian or East Asian. That represented an increase over last year of 4.9 per cent, helped by a rise in middle-grade books with a 7.5 per cent increase. Young adult books actually recorded a decrease of 3.6 per cent year over year.

Break the numbers down into specific ethnicities and some groups are better represented than others.

According to Statistics Canada, 7,674,580 people, or just more than 22 per cent of those who filled out the 2016 census, identify as a visible minority out of a total population of 34,460,065. Of those, 1,198,545 or 3.5 per cent identify as Black; 1,924,635 or 5.6 per cent as South Asian; 1,858,690 or 5.4 per cent as East Asian; and 2,692,715 or eight per cent as another visible minority. Those who identified as Aboriginal made up just under five per cent of the population at 1,673,785.

Almost 78 per cent of the population, or 26,785,485 people, identify as not a visible minority. And 22 per cent of the population is identified as disabled.

So, in picture books this year, 11.5 per cent of main characters were Black, compared to 3.5 per cent of the population. By the time we get to middle-grade books, that number shrinks to 9.2 per cent and just five per cent for YA books. Indigenous characters featured well in picture books at 7.7 per cent, but in middle-grade books accounted for only 2.8 per cent of main characters.

The number of books featuring a main character who is visibly or invisibly disabled marked a positive change: 39 out of the 525 characters fell into those categories, while last year 28 characters did. Overall, that marks an increase of 2.7 per cent for visibly disabled characters, while invisibly disabled characters fell marginally year over year.

Dorothy Ellen Palmer, author of “Falling For Myself” and a disability activist, says she’s glad to see there’s been some improvement. She does think that there’s a special onus on publishers, especially with the pandemic “erasing disabled and senior voices” to “reclaim those voices and make sure they don’t disappear.” She also notes that “it’s critically important that some of these disabled characters and authors aren’t white … 23 per cent of every racialized community is disabled.”

Finally, we asked in a separate question how many of the writers/illustrators were persons of colour. Publishers reported that 75 of the authors and 53 of the illustrators were people of colour, while six of the authors and one of the illustrators had a visible or invisible disability. Some of those writers and illustrators might have worked on multiple books. A few publishers noted that they did not want to say whether someone was invisibly disabled if they hadn’t self-identified that way, so didn’t include them.

Our ultimate goal should be to move toward authentic and dynamic diverse representation both in the books as well as those writing them

“One of the challenges of getting diverse books published in Canada is the idea of ‘gatekeeping,’” Kokhar said. “We have to consider who is deciding which story is ‘of value’ and ‘worth’ publishing and sharing widely. There is power in having the privilege to choose or reject a story as well as creating and giving space to someone to share it.”

In a year when Black Lives Matter and social activism have been front and centre in the media, the publishing community has been forcefully nudged to address the issue.

“Along with response to the pandemic, anti-racism and equity initiatives have been a focus for ACP this year,” Edwards said. “Many companies are looking at issues like editorial bias and more equitable staff recruitment, with the goal of ensuring that the books they publish, and the people who produce them, reflect Canada’s diversity.”

Penguin Random House, for example, recently appointed Sue Kuruvilla to head its Random House Canada imprint. Kuruvilla has deep roots in marketing and is also a founding member of Canadian Black Standard, “a network and advocacy platform addressing systemic barriers to employment advancement and the inclusion of Black Canadian women in marketing.”

Kristin Cochrane, the publishing house’s CEO, said in a statement that she wanted to hire someone “who would bring us all a fresh perspective, someone who could find new ways to approach publishing on a book-by-book level and for the list as a whole.”

Jael Richardson, author and founder of the Festival of Literary Diversity, notes, as did Edwards, that it takes time for initiatives to end up in actual product.

“We have to count, we have to start asking these questions, but I don’t think any publisher should be congratulating themselves on what they’re doing at this point because, even if they’re doing good work, the important thing is going to be doing it over the long haul.”

In the U.K., the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education has undertaken a similar survey and is now on its third year.

Its latest survey reports that “the number of children’s books published in the UK over the last three years (2017-19) featuring characters from a Black, Asian or minority ethnic background has increased to 10% in 2019, rising from 4% in 2017, 7% in 2018 to 10% in 2019.”

The organization also pointed out that the characters remain “significantly under-represented in comparison to the UK primary school population where 33.5% of children are from a minority ethnic background.”

In terms of authors and illustrators of colour published in the UK, those have “grown to 8% … rising from less than 6% in 2017.”

The results of the Star’s first diversity survey were presented in February at the Treasure Mountain symposium of teacher/librarians in Toronto. While the survey measures whether authors or illustrators were of colour, LGBTQ or disabled, there is not a measure of whether the stories themselves were about them — as opposed to simply featuring characters that appeared diverse.

It was a concern Richardson raised when we spoke with her. “I’m concerned because one of the things I’m seeing a lot is colour washing where they’re colouring characters differently, but they’re not actually economically investing in the authors who could be writing more in-depth experiences, fiction and non-fiction.”

After seeing the survey presented, Toni Duval, a middle school teacher/librarian at the Peel District School Board and a volunteer at FOLD Kids, says that she asked herself the question, “What do I know deeply about the books on my shelves?”

So she started to take her own survey. “I thought, if I start to look at what’s on the shelves, and who are the authors, then I’m gonna get an idea of who is missing.”

She initially wanted her students to be involved because they could then tell her what was missing. COVID-19 didn’t allow that to happen. So, instead, she decided to bite off something smaller, and on her own during July.

She went back year by year, seeing which authors and what titles were on her shelves. “I sorted everything by publishing year,” she says. “And the further away I went from the present, the whiter my collection was. It was so blatant.”

Part of that is down to the books available for libraries to purchase, as well as distribution: getting them onto the shelves of libraries and into the hands of students. She also began cross-referencing, asking herself was an Asian writer writing about an Asian character?

Other librarians, she says, are interested in her work. “It’s getting people thinking about who’s on the shelves.” And increasing the diversity they represent so students see that their voices have value, too.

Duval questions the choices students are being given. “Not just giving a Black author to a Black student … but who else is reading those books? With the students I teach, I want them to understand so many lived experiences that they just feel like the world is represented to them and they don’t have this narrow view.”

Publishing the books is only one step in the process. Getting diverse books in the hands of all kids is the next step.

“There’s so many voices that, hopefully, will get a chance to be published,” said Duval. “And maybe those are going to be kids that I’m teaching that feel, ‘Yeah, I could tell my story.’”

Source: Who do we see in Canadian children’s books? The Star’s second annual diversity survey tells the story

Time to act on newsroom inequality

From the Star’s Public Editor:

“For years, we at The Star have talked about, sometimes in terms of despair, the need to reflect the changing nature of this city… Our coverage has not been inclusive enough. One obvious solution would be to hire more reporters and editors of all colors and cultures. New perspectives and new contacts would clearly improve the breadth and scope of our coverage.”

1995: Toronto & the Star: Report of the Diversity Committee

How can it be that a generation – a quarter century — has passed and still the Toronto Star and newsrooms throughout North America have not come to terms with the reality and repercussions of predominantly white newsrooms that look nothing like the communities they seek to serve?

Certainly, journalists at all levels of news organizations have seemingly long understood that a more diverse newsroom can provide more representative, more accurate and more complete news coverage that is necessary in a just and equitable society. Yet, after all these years, the truth of this matter is found in statements released earlier this year by the Canadian Association of Black Journalists and Canadian Journalists of Colour.

“Canadian newsrooms and media coverage are not truly representative of our country’s racial diversity. We acknowledge that journalism outlets have made efforts to address this worrying gap, but glaring racial inequity persists.”

I am not the first person to note that the brutal police killing of George Floyd and the subsequent global protests against systemic equality and for racial justice have presented journalism with something of a “#MeToo” moment – a seemingly rapid and revolutionary recognition of the need for change and broad refusal to accept the status quo of a long simmering situation.

Indeed, as Canadians confront the broader realities and repercussions of systematic anti-Black and Indigenous racism in our own country, it is well past time for a “reckoning” within journalism, a time to listen, to learn and to examine journalism’s role in the damaging prevalence of systemic racism.

As many have also made clear, this is most of all, a time for action. To its credit, the Star and its parent company, Torstar, committed this week, in a statement sent to all staff, to “taking concrete measures to address inequality, exclusion and discrimination.”

That was followed by a memo to the newsroom from Star editor Irene Gentle, who endorsed well-justified calls to action by the CABJ and CJoC that hold newsrooms to account for racial equality in Canadian media.

“Calls on behalf of Black, Indigenous and journalists of colour are founded in principles of anti-racism, justice and accountability this newsroom has long stood for in its reporting but did not live up to in its internal make-up, organization and, at times, judgment,” Gentle said. “Words don’t matter without actions and these actions can only make us a better, more fair newsroom to work in, inspire more relevant, vital journalism and help make our ideals a reality.”

In an earlier note to staff, Gentle acknowledged that the Star’s newsroom is not representative of the communities it reports on, even as its own outstanding anti-racism reporting continues to expose systemic racism within other institutions and organizations such as education and police.

“Internally, we obviously cannot ignore our own deficits,” she said. “There are historical and financial reasons for this, but that, while a fact, is not an excuse.”

Among the actions the Star and Torstar news organizations have committed to are: voluntary surveys of newsroom demographics to measure employment diversity statistics, hiring and promoting of Black and Indigenous employees and other people of colour and diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds, training and mentoring of young and aspiring journalists of colour, including possible collaborations with journalism schools. Gentle also committed to establishing ongoing consultations with racialized and other communities through advisory groups.

“Some of these are underway or beginning. Others will require some time to set up and entrench,” Gentle said. “But we are committed to doing it because we, like all of you, know it is the right thing to do.”

The Star’s newsroom commitments are supported fully by the Torstar organization overall. In the memo to all staff, Torstar CEO John Boynton made clear the company “cannot just talk about appointing more committees, more task forces more study groups to look at these actions.”

“As a media company with a long history of championing equality for all, Torstar is uniquely positioned to learn from our past, to give voice to the present through our news coverage and providing opportunities in our pages and on our websites for frank, honest and open conversations about race and diversity and to help provide guidance and examples for future generations,” he said.

While I have been discouraged at knowing how long Canadian newsrooms have been talking about this issue, with so little real and necessary change happening. I am heartened by these statements of actions and our CEO’s words seeking accountability: “We will be – and we should be – held accountable for ensuring that we act. If we fail, please let us know.”

Indeed, equality and diversity are not simply “nice to have,” an exhaustive 2019 report from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism on “the struggle for talent and diversity in modern newsrooms” tells us.

“More diversity and a better representation of the underlying population is not only a question of justness and fairness, it’s also a question of power, as the media still largely decide who gets to be heard in society and thus who gets to shape political and social issues,” that report states.

Within the Star, I believe there is strong understanding that this week’s commitment to action is just the beginning as we all listen to learn and understand our own roles in the perpetuation of newsroom inequity. I see need for ongoing discussion and debate among journalists, their employers and unions, people of colour from the wider community, journalism scholars and industry associations about newsrooms structures, and journalism’s practices, standards and values. Most important, as is happening throughout North America now, this time demands a rethinking about how journalism and its mission in a democracy that stands for universal human rights is defined — and more important, who defines it.

Whether we regard this moment as a reckoning or a revolution, the time for that is now.

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.


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


Canadians living abroad should be allowed to vote: Editorial | Toronto Star

I disagree.

Long-term (over 5 years) expats may or may not remained connected to Canada (the various imperfect data sources I am looking at present a varied picture) but most  do not pay Canadian taxes and are disconnected from the day-to-day issues (e.g., healthcare, transit) that often drive elections and voters:

The rule used to deny the vote to Canadians who have lived abroad for longer than five years actually dates back to 1993. But it was only enforced by the government of former prime minister Stephen Harper after 2007. The decision was based on a claim that it was unfair to give equal voice to Canadians living abroad and those who live in the country because expatriates won’t live with the consequences of their choice.

It’s a flawed argument and one rejected by most other democracies, which place fewer restrictions on expatriates. Canadians abroad who are passionate about this country’s affairs — to the extent that they’re determined enough to vote — should have a say in the affairs of their homeland.

Given the vast information resources available online and the ease of international travel, Canadian expats can easily keep up to date with what’s going on at home. And their opinions have real value. Indeed, it can be argued that it’s in the national interest to allow these well-travelled and typically well-educated citizens a hand in the political process.

As reported by The Canadian Press, the constitutionality of existing law is being challenged by plaintiffs Jamie Duong and Gillain Frank, both Canadians working in the United States. Frank, from Toronto, teaches at Princeton University, and Duong, of Montreal, works at Cornell.

They won before the Ontario Superior Court in 2014; lost when the government appealed last July; and then took the matter to the Supreme Court of Canada, which has agreed to hear their case.

The court would do well to overturn an unfair law and bring Canada’s rules more in line with international practice.

Britons living abroad are allowed to cast a ballot if they’re citizens and had registered to vote within the last 15 years. Americans can vote all their lives, regardless of where they happen to live. And Italy goes so far as to set aside seats in parliament specifically to be filled by citizens living abroad.

It’s estimated that more than a million Canadians living outside the country are blocked from voting by the current rule. That constitutes a large-scale disenfranchisement and it’s manifestly unfair. If these people want a say in the affairs of their homeland they should be allowed to have it, regardless of how long they’ve been away.

Source: Canadians living abroad should be allowed to vote: Editorial | Toronto Star

Canada faces dramatic drop in citizenship, prompting concerns about disengaged immigrants

Canadian Multiculturalism: Evidence and Anecdote Deck - Images.039Further to yesterday’s post regarding my forthcoming book (Multiculturalism in Canada: Evidence and Anecdote) and the deck summarizing some of the high level results, the Toronto Star article focussing on my findings regarding citizenship take-up and the impact of the 2010 changes (the chart above shows the impact of the citizenship test changes on different ethnic groups):

“In the past, citizenship was viewed as a stepping stone to immigrant integration, and it should be done earlier on,” said Griffith, who will present Multiculturalism in Canada at a three-day national immigration and settlement conference in Vancouver that starts Thursday.

“These changes have made it harder and prohibitive for some to acquire citizenship, turning Canada into a country where an increasing percentage of immigrants are likely to remain non-citizens, without the ability to engage in the Canadian political process.”

Based on latest government data, Griffith found that the ratio of permanent residents who eventually become citizens has been in decline since 2000, and has dropped most rapidly in recent years.

Only 26 per cent of permanent residents who settled in Canada in 2008 have acquired Canadian citizenship, compared with 44 per cent for the wave of immigrants settling in 2007, and 79 per cent of those who arrived in 2000.

Griffith said the government data used in his analysis was selected to reflect the fact that it takes immigrants an average six years to acquire Canadian citizenship. The 2008 cohort best indicates the early impact of reforms implemented by the Conservative government.

The permanent-resident-to-citizen conversion rate does generally rise the longer immigrants have been in Canada. But an 18 per cent decrease between the 2008 and 2007 cohorts is alarming, Griffith said.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada spokesperson Johanne Nadeau said Canada has one of the highest naturalization rates in the world, “as 86 per cent of eligible permanent residents for Canadian citizenship decide to acquire it.”

She suggested the Griffith is misinterpreting the data because “he is not taking into account those (permanent residents) who are not yet eligible to become citizens because they haven’t met all of the requirements needed to begin the citizenship process.”

Citizens are protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, can vote in elections and are entitled to Canadian passports. Not only do permanent residents not have those privileges, they are also vulnerable to revocation of their status and removals from Canada.

“I understand the rationale behind these government changes,” said Griffith, who worked for the government as the reforms were developed and rolled out, and retired in 2013.

“But I’m on the side of inclusion rather than exclusion. We need to make sure those who apply for citizenship take it seriously, but we don’t want to inadvertently create excessive barriers and shift the relationship of some of the communities with the country.”

… “When you make it more difficult for some communities to become citizens, you are going to create issues with their engagement, attachment and identity of Canada,” said Griffith.

“The question is how we balance between ensuring the rigours of the (citizenship) process and yet making it fair and reasonable.”

Canada faces dramatic drop in citizenship, prompting concerns about disengaged immigrants

A distinctly Canadian oath – I’ll swear to that – Yakabuski

Konrad Yakabuski, in an otherwise good overview of the Canadian oath of citizenship, misplaces the question of the oath with the question of being a republic.

“Constitutional monarchy is the best form of government that humanity has yet tried,” Dylan Matthews concluded in an empirical report, published last year in The Washington Post. “It has yielded rich, healthy nations whose regime transitions are almost always due to elections and whose heads of state are capable of being truly apolitical.”I’ll swear to that.

After all, Australia changed its citizenship oath while remaining a constitutional monarchy:

From this time forward, under God (under God optional),

I pledge my loyalty to Australia and its people,

whose democratic beliefs I share,

whose rights and liberties I respect, and

whose laws I will uphold and obey.

A distinctly Canadian oath – I’ll swear to that – The Globe and Mail.

The Star, argues the opposite from Yakabuski, noting Australia as above and the UK change for new citizens to  “give my loyalty to the United Kingdom and respect its rights and freedoms,” in addition to swearing allegiance to the Queen:

But that doesn’t mean the oath to the Queen cannot — or should not — be changed by the people and their Parliament. The very principles symbolized by the Crown guarantee the right of all Canadians to work through the constitutional system for this kind of political reform.

In fact, the oath of allegiance can — and should — be changed. Not because it violates any newcomer’s private political beliefs. It should be changed because a straightforward declaration of loyalty to Canada, its laws and traditions would be much more meaningful to the quarter million who choose this country every year.

Adopting an oath of allegiance to Canada would not affect the Canadian monarchy one bit. Elizabeth II would remain the Queen of Canada, and the Crown would remain the symbol of our constitutional, democratic system.

New citizens should pledge loyalty to Canada: Editorial


Ethically speaking: Discuss communication issues around accents with respect | Toronto Star

Some good practical advice when you can’t understand some accents and how to raise your concerns:

Carefully. Very, very carefully.

I like the way you’ve framed the problem. Rather than launching into a racist diatribe about “foreigners who won’t even speak Canadian,” you’ve set the issue up in a way that is reasonable and respectful. You’ve tried, but remain frustrated by an inability to communicate with the folks behind the counter.

I suggest that you speak to the owners quietly, when there are no other customers in the store. Describe your concern exactly as you’ve told it to me. Make sure they understand how great you think their store is, and how much you want them to succeed. And leave it to them to act however they think is appropriate.

The version of your problem that is more difficult is the one where you phone a customer service centre — say for Bell, Rogers or whomever — and get an agent whose accent is so thick you can’t understand it. For many people, especially those whose hearing is less than 100 per cent, this is very frustrating. They’ve waited 30 minutes on hold “your call is important to us”; now they’re trying to explain their problem to someone they simply cannot understand.

Ethically speaking: Discuss communication issues around accents with respect | Toronto Star.

Filipino Canadians fear end of immigrant dreams for nannies

Nicholas Keung’s article on the future of the Live-in Caregivers program:

Critics of the government’s approach, including some Conservative loyalists, warn that the growing Filipino Canadian vote could also be at stake in next year’s federal election if the government removes access to immigration from the live-in caregiver program LCP — 90 per cent of those participating are from the Philippines.

Family separation, lost skills the biggest challenges for immigrant nannies“This is a defining issue for the Filipino Canadian community,” said Chris Sorio of Migrante Canada, an international advocacy group for Filipino migrants.

“This is something very close to our hearts. It is worrying us because we feel this could be a smoke-screen for changes that are coming to the LCP program. Our concern is they are going to further restrict family reunification under the program.”

In recent meetings with the media to discuss Ottawa’s planned reforms to the controversial temporary foreign workers program, Employment Minister Jason Kenney criticized the LCP as being “out of control” and having “mutated” into a program of family reunification.

… Findings of the nanny study [by Ethel Tungonan of U of Alberta]

Researchers surveyed 631 Filipina caregivers about their jobs, recruitment, education, use of community supports and health, in the first national study of Canada’s live-in caregivers.

It found:

  • Caregivers’ average age on arrival was 34

  • 86% had university education or above.

  • Nearly 90% arriving in the past five years were recruited by employment agencies or directly hired by unrelated employers.

  • Two-thirds had children; about half experienced continued separation because their children had grown too old to be considered dependants for immigration.

Filipino Canadians fear end of immigrant dreams for nannies | Toronto Star.

Diversity is right course: Public Editor | Toronto Star

The Star’s Public Editor, Kathy English, on diversity:

That means every Star journalist must filter the many choices made every day in creating and presenting stories, opinions, photos and videos through a key question — Does this reflect Toronto in all its diversity?

This question needs to be top of mind for reporters, columnists, photographers and their editors when stories are pitched, sources are selected, images are captured. Our journalists need to seek out visible minority sources for comment on all the broad issues that affect our entire community — not just the issues that affect their specific communities. We should not accept easy stereotypes and tokenism. And just as importantly, we must understand how a disproportionate level of negative coverage of visible minorities can skew perceptions of reality.

Of course, all of this makes good business sense at a time when the economics of news publishing are changing drastically. Studies link a decline in reader engagement with the news to the reality that many people do not see themselves reflected in coverage. Certainly to grow readership and deepen reader engagement across all the new platforms through which the Star serves readers now and into the future we need to reach and reflect a diverse audience.

But for me, the heart of this issue is the overall accuracy and fairness of the Star’s coverage of its community. When we do not fully and truly reflect the diversity of Toronto we give readers an incomplete and inaccurate picture of their community.

Indeed, reflecting Toronto in all its rich diversity is the right thing to do.

Diversity is right course: Public Editor | Toronto Star.

Cruel to take health care away from refugee claimants – Globe and Star Editorials

Harper Flesh WoundNot much support for the Government on the refugee claimant healthcare cuts, starting with the Globe’s editorial:

The problems with the federal cuts to refugee health care begin with the rationale used by government to introduce them in the first place: cost, deterring false refugee claims and equity – the idea that refugees are receiving better health care than Canadians. The court found the government wrong on all counts.

Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander defended the cuts by saying they would save taxpayers $100-million over five years. The calculation was always suspect. It never factored in hidden costs, such as those incurred by neglecting certain health conditions as a result of no coverage. Mr. Alexander consistently argued that any refugee with a serious illness could still turn to hospital emergency rooms, as if that came at no cost. The government also argued the cuts would reduce the number of bogus refugees coming to Canada simply to access the country’s health care. Ottawa’s decision to penalize potential offenders by depriving every claimant in that category of health care is a kind of collective punishment. A court of law presumes innocence until guilt is proven. When it comes to refugee claimants, Ottawa should at least extend the same benefit of the doubt.

The Federal Court ruling reverses the government’s dumb cuts to refugee health care. There’s a legitimate concern about bogus refugee claimants abusing the system. This health care policy, a weapon that has now come back to wound its creator, was never the right way to deal with the problem.

Cruel to take health care away from refugee claimants – The Globe and Mail.

Predictably, from the Star:

While the Canadian Medical Association cheered the ruling as “a victory for reasonable compassion and a big step for natural justice,” Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander intends to appeal. A less obtuse government would have been shamed into retreat, given the string of humiliating court defeats the Conservatives have suffered over Harper’s clumsy attempt to shoehorn an unqualified judge onto the Supreme Court, his hugely flawed law-and-order agenda and his unlawful bid to change the Senate. But this government is shameless. Alexander has even attacked Ontario for trying to plug the gap, accusing officials of coddling “bogus claimants” and “fraudsters.”

Federal Court rightly strikes down Harper’s refugee health-care cuts: Editorial

And prior to the Federal Court ruling, from the Calgary Herald (not just the suspect Toronto media):

A national day of action was held Monday by health-care professionals, people one doesn’t usually associate with protests and public forms of advocacy. The federal government should live up to its obligations and reinstate medical coverage for all refugees — not just those with the greatest chance of having a legitimate claim. If it wants to protect taxpayers, the government can do so by handling refugees claims in a timely fashion and sending those who are found lacking back home as quickly as possible. But under no circumstances should refugees — many of them already victims of abuse — be made to needlessly suffer.

Editorial: Reinstate refugees’ medical coverage

And Jon Kay in the National Post:

The moral relativist tries to blur the line between us and them. The punitive moral absolutist, on the other hand, paints the line stark and thick, and turns politics into a game of inflicting symbolic cruelties on the people on the wrong side of it. Thus, Tory criminal-justice policy consists of finding new and gratuitous ways to make life harsher for convicts — including taking away their rights to receive visitors, and eliminating widely lauded prison-work programs. Canada is one of the safest countries in the world, and has been getting safer for decades. But prisoners — like diabetic migrants — have no politically influential constituency, so tightening the screws on them scores well at poll-driven Tory brainstorming sessions.

When it comes to performing the same stunt on migrants, the irony is that the current Immigration Minister, former ambassador to Afghanistan and UN official Chris Alexander, has done more than just about any other Canadian to help the population of one of the most destitute nations on earth. Yet now that he is back on Canadian soil, he has been tasked with a policy aimed at denying health benefits to vulnerable people who have come to our shores.

Canada’s valuable post-9/11 work in Afghanistan — building schools for girls, and creating a democracy — was a powerful rebuke to the moral relativist idea that no system of values is better than any other. But as last week’s Federal Court ruling demonstrates, not every issue should be treated with the same aggressive us-vs.-them spirit.

Jonathan Kay: The refugee health-care decision lays bare Harper’s creed — punitive moral absolutism