One of Canada’s former top immigration officials says so-called passport babies are a genuine problem in some Canadian locales and closing a loophole being exploited by pregnant foreign tourists is required to curtail the fraudulent practice.
But Andrew Griffith, a former director general at Citizenship and Immigration, said that a policy resolution passed by Conservatives this weekend to end the practice of giving citizenship to anyone born in the country may be akin to “using a hammer to squash a fly.”
Delegates at the Conservatives’ policy convention in Halifax endorsed a resolution to end the policy of birthright citizenship, with backers contending too many foreigners are travelling to Canada solely to give birth to secure status for their children.
Party members voted to call for a key section of Canada’s nationality law to be rewritten, endorsing a policy that would remove citizenship rights for children born in Canada to non-Canadian (or permanent resident) parents. The resolution is, however, non-binding on a future government.
“It’s basically using fraud to get citizenship for a child. People are coming on a visa under false pretences and just coming for the opportunity to provide citizenship for their kid. I can understand the motivation, but it’s really not what the policy was designed for and it’s a form of fraud and misrepresentation,” said Griffith in an interview with CBC News.
Proponents of the change, introduced by delegates from Newfoundland and Labrador, said such a move is necessary to crack down on foreigners travelling here for the sole purpose of securing perks and privileges for their children that come with being Canadian.
The change would upend a section of Canadian law that has been largely intact since the advent of a distinct Canadian citizenship decades ago.
Canada — along with some other nations in the Americas, including the U.S. — is among a few developed countries that grant citizenship to any child born on its soil, regardless of the immigration status of their parents.
There are a few exceptions, notably the children of foreign diplomats are excluded, but generally the principle of jus soli, Latin for “right of the soil,” is applied.
Some have suggested this is a solution looking for a problem as, according to Statistics Canada, just 313 babies were born in this country in 2016 to non-Canadian mothers, out of the 383,315 children born here that year.
But other data suggests the phenomenon is more common. Richmond Hospital in Richmond, B.C., a city near Vancouver, recorded 383 births to non-resident mothers in 2016-17 — representing 17.2 per cent of all births at the hospital.
Last year, the number rose to 469, or 22.2 per cent of all births — according to statistics provided by the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority to CBC News. The authority said the majority were to Chinese nationals.
“It’s arguably crowding out [hospital] space and facilities for residents of Canada. So, there’s a real issue there in Richmond, B.C. and other localities,” said Griffith.
But Griffith questioned whether the Conservative solution is workable, noting former Conservative citizenship minister Jason Kenney pursued a policy change while in government only to find the numbers relatively small and the cost to provinces — which issue birth certificates — prohibitive.
“I don’t want to see [birth tourism] happen, but on the practical side as to what you do about it, abolishing birthright citizenship is using a hammer to squash a fly, because if the numbers are small … do you really want to inconvenience literally millions of Canadians to address a relatively small problem? Are there other ways one can address the issue?”
Griffith suggested hospitals could require higher deposits from non-residents to cover medical expenses, or there could be changes to how visas are granted to pregnant women to allow border officials to refuse entry if they suspect a person is travelling to Canada to give birth.
He also said the clear discrepancy between StatsCan data and information supplied by just one B.C. hospital suggests the government needs to “get its act together … to get a real handle on what exactly the numbers are.”