Liberals give frosty reception to petition against birth tourism

One in six births in Richmond last year was to a mother from China

Richmond Centre Conservative MP Alice Wong is preparing a private member’s bill to limit birth tourism, after the federal Liberal government failed to act on an electronic petition that she sponsored.

“This is an issue that needs to be examined,” Wong told Business in Vancouver. “It’s not only myself that would like to see this changed, almost 9,000 people signed this petition from around the country.”

Richmond resident Kerry Starchuk initiated petition e-397, which drew 8,886 signatures between mid-June and mid-October, in a bid to end the automatic granting of citizenship to babies born in Canada to foreign parents. The petition needed only 500 supporters to be introduced in the House of Commons.

On Dec. 2, however, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister John McCallum tabled a vague 296-word response that offered Wong and Starchuk no hope that the government would ever do anything.

“While there may be instances of expectant mothers who are foreign nationals who travel to Canada to give birth, requiring that a parent be a citizen or permanent resident in order for their child to acquire citizenship through birth in Canada would represent a significant change to how Canadian citizenship is acquired,” said McCallum’s response.

Starchuk began the petition after the house next door to hers became an illegal hotel catering to women from China waiting to give birth at Richmond Hospital. One in six babies born last fiscal year at Richmond Hospital was to a mother with Chinese citizenship.

“I’m extremely disappointed,” said Starchuk, who unsuccessfully lobbied the City of Richmond to compel Chinese businesses to include English in their signage. “My energy is built on making things better. Money is driving all of this – it’s short-term gain and long-term consequences.”

Canada and the U.S. are the only two G7 countries that still permit birthright citizenship. Under the 1947 Canadian Citizenship Act, at age 18 a Canadian-born child can sponsor his or her foreign-born parents to immigrate to Canada. Starchuk said Canada’s economic situation and the corresponding stress on social programs have changed since the Second World War, so the policy needs updating.

“If you have a house for 70 years, you’d have to have an update,” she said.

Private member’s bills rarely become law, but Wong’s is bound to at least spark debate inside and outside Parliament.

“People will agree that my private member’s bill is going to be a balanced approach to the issue,” Wong said. “I’m an immigrant, immigration is a part of who we are in this nation. We all need to respect the system and ensure it is balanced.”

For the year ended March 31, there were 295 Chinese-mothered babies delivered at Richmond Hospital of the total 1,938. The cost of delivery ranges from $7,000 to $13,000 and is charged to the mother.

B.C. Health Ministry internal documents, released under freedom of information law, show that the compliance and enforcement unit of the Audit and Investigations Branch knew of 26 so-called “baby houses” like the one that spurred Starchuk into action.

The cost of non-resident births in B.C. was almost $700,000 in 2014-2015. Health authorities recovered almost 86% of costs and the rest by PharmaCare and Medical Services Plan.

The birth house in Starchuk’s neighbourhood became an illegal hotel shortly after the launch of Starchuk’s petition. City of Richmond bylaw inspectors shut it down in late September. An investigation by Richmond News reporter Graeme Wood found 19 guests were staying in 10 of the available 11 rooms in the house, whose registered owner is Chris Baohua Zhou.