In Canada, the concept of birthright citizenship is always observed.
Anyone born within the borders of the country, regardless of the immigration status of their parents, is a Canadian citizen. Other countries have adopted more stringent regulations to avoid the practice of “birth tourism,” which has allowed expectant mothers who are foreign nationals to gain automatic citizenship for their children.
In 2019, Canadians – but particularly British Columbians and Quebecers – became more informed about “birth tourism.” The existence of unregulated “for profit” businesses that have facilitated the practice in Canada led to intense media scrutiny and calls for action from the federal government.
As expected, the COVID-19 pandemic had a profound effect on birth tourism in Canada. According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), 2,433 births qualified as “non-resident self-pay” took place from April 2020 to March 2021. This represents a 57 per cent decrease from the previous 12-month period, when the country had fewer restrictions for tourists and temporary visitors.
Things were very different before the pandemic, especially in a couple of hospitals located in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland. From April 2019 to March 2020, practically one-quarter of all births registered in the Richmond Hospital (24.0 per cent) were qualified as non-resident self-pay. In St. Paul’s and Mount Saint Joseph Hospital, 14.1 per cent of all births were also non-resident self-pay.
A quick glance at the 2020-21 data shows a severe drop. The proportion of births qualified as non-resident self-pay plummeted to 4.6 per cent in Richmond Hospital and to 5.1 per cent in St. Paul’s and Mount Saint Joseph. These levels are on par with other hospitals across the country and no longer outside the norm.
When Research Co. and Glacier Media asked Canadians about birth tourism last month, fewer than three in 10 (28 per cent) said they were following stories about it “very closely” or “moderately closely.” This represents a 13-point drop from our previous survey conducted in August 2020, with higher interest in British Columbia (36 per cent) and Quebec (34 per cent).
There are some fluctuations on the perceptions of Canadians on birth tourism, but majorities are still critical of its existence and its purported effects. For more than three in five Canadians, birth tourism can be unfairly used to gain access to Canada’s education, health care and social programs (64 per cent, down seven points).
Majorities of Canadians continue to believe that birth tourism can displace Canadians from hospitals (54 per cent, down two points) and degrade the value of Canadian citizenship (53 per cent, down four points).
A large proportion of Canadians (62 per cent, down five points) believe that birthright citizenship may have made sense at one point, but now people have taken advantage of existing rules. This last reflection is particularly troubling for Canadians aged 55 and over (63 per cent), British Columbians (66 per cent) and Conservative Party of Canada supporters in the 2021 federal election (also 66 per cent).
More than seven in 10 Canadians (73 per cent, down five points) continue to be troubled by the current state of affairs and would like to see the federal government establish a committee to investigate the full extent of birth tourism in Canada. This includes majorities of those who voted for the Liberal Party of Canada (82 per cent), the Conservatives (77 per cent) and the New Democratic Party (NDP) (72 per cent) in the last federal ballot.
Pandemic or no pandemic, almost half of Canadians (48 per cent, down six points) think it is time for Canada to consider establishing new guidelines for birthright citizenship, while more than a third (37 per cent, up three points) would maintain the rules that we have in place now. The difference between these two options is not as large as it was in 2020, but a plurality of Canadians believe that some legislative action is required.
Our latest survey shows that Canadians are not as troubled by birth tourism as they were in 2020, partly because it has been absent from media coverage. We can see from official statistics that the incidence of this practice is lower, but this is a direct result of a pandemic that severely limited the ability of people to travel to Canada. There has been no structural change and no policy action on the part of the federal government. We will have to wait to see if the number of cases rises as the country is once again open for tourists. Still, practically three in four Canadians call on Ottawa to take a hard look at what is going on.
Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.
Results are based on an online study conducted from October 24 to October 26, 2022, among 1,000 adults in Canada. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region in Canada. The margin of error – which measures sample variability – is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.