Toronto Life - The Informer

Insider intel on the politics and personalities shaping the city. Sign up for Preview newsletter for weekly updates

Columns

28 Comments

Jan Wong: Canada’s birthright citizenship policy makes us a nation of suckers

Pregnant women are travelling to Toronto from all over—China, Iran, India, Dubai, Jamaica—to have their babies on Canadian soil, and who can blame them? We’re a nation of suckers

Jan Wong: Motherlode

I don’t know about you, but I constantly congratulate myself on winning the jackpot in the lottery of life. Thank you, revered ancestor, for your wisdom in choosing Canada. My grandfather, Hooie Chong, came here as a coolie in the 1880s to build the Canadian Pacific Railway. Once it was complete, he paid a special tax to stay on and continue working, as a laundryman. Later, he paid triple head taxes to bring over my grandmother, their son and his wife. Family lore has it ­that Grandfather Chong was the 10th Chinese person to become a naturalized Canadian (albeit without any right to vote).

Now there’s a much easier path to ­citizenship: birth tourism. Foreign companies are helping pregnant women take advantage of our breathtakingly generous birthright policy, which grants automatic citizenship—and all the rights and ­benefits it entails—to any baby born on Canadian soil. You don’t even have to touch the soil: in 2008, a girl born to a Ugandan mother aboard a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Boston was deemed ­Canadian because the plane happened to be in our airspace at the moment of delivery. Currently, Canada and the U.S. are the only two developed countries bestowing birthright citizenship.

For pregnant women actively seeking to jump the immigration queue, birth tourism agencies offer comprehensive package deals. One such agency is the Canada-U.S. Childbirth Counselling ­Services Company, based in Nanjing, China. According to their website, “the best gift you can give your newborn is a Canadian passport.” The company’s $36,200 package includes airfare, assistance with visas and paperwork, coaching on how to get through the border, private accommodation with Wi-Fi and “a special person to cook and look after your personal needs.” Among the advantages that come with Canadian citizenship, the company lists “great educational resources” and social benefits, including welfare payments of “$500 to $700 a month for a single person,” plus a Canadian passport that provides visa-free entry to more than 200 countries, including the U.S., Japan and western Europe.

Birth tourism consultants recommend that clients apply for tourist visas early and fly before they start to show. Otherwise they are advised to wear loose clothing to the airport. While some airlines such as Air Canada require a doctor’s note to fly after 36 weeks of pregnancy, in this age of political correctness, a woman is unlikely to be questioned about girth. Once at the border, birth-tourism agencies advise expectant mothers to say they’re visiting Canada to sightsee.

From there, the visitor’s experience is fairly straightforward. When she goes into labour, she’s automatically admitted into one of the many local hospitals offering high-quality obstetric care. Wendy Lawrence, in-house legal counsel at Mount Sinai, says the hospital considers every labour a medical emergency. “No matter what, we help them deliver the baby.”

Once the baby is born, the hospital opens a file and assigns a number. Hospital staff aren’t required to check the ­mother’s citizenship, and they don’t. The province (which is responsible for birth registration) doesn’t ask about the ­mother’s citizenship either—a lapse Ottawa says it will address. When mother and baby leave the hospital, they move into a short-term rental. Thanks to Canada’s streamlined application process, the parental paperwork is a breeze. It takes just 25 minutes online to register a birth, apply for a birth certificate and acquire a social insurance number. Official documents arrive in the mail a few weeks later; a passport takes another month.