Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'Birth tourism' pains Canada

Crackdown vowed on illegal practice

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Citizenship and Immigration Canada is poised to crack down on so-called "passport babies" or "birth tourism" -- the practice of travelling to Canada to give birth so that child can have Canadian citizenship -- as a media report out of China reveals a ring of consultants are coaching pregnant women to do exactly that.

"We are aware of crooked consultants who encourage pregnant women to illegally travel to Canada to give birth and gain access to Canada's considerable benefits," Citizenship and Immigration spokeswoman Candice Malcolm told Postmedia News on Sunday.

"We condemn the practice of circumventing our laws to game the system, leaving Canadians taxpayers with the bill. This is unfair and not right."

The government will introduce changes to the citizenship laws in the next year, Malcolm said.

An investigation by a Hong Kong newspaper found that bogus "consultants" are teaching Chinese women how to hide their pregnancies and how to apply for Canadian visitor or student visas.

For a fee, the pregnant women are instructed to wear dark clothing when crossing the border, not to pack any baby belongings and to lay low until they go into labour, at which point they should rush to the nearest hospital, according to newspaper Apple Daily.

On Friday, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney told CBC's Power and Politics that this kind of fraud has been a problem for some time but that it's difficult to get a handle on the numbers.

"By definition the hospitals don't ask. You know, when the birth certificate is issued no one is asking what was the immigration status of their parents. So, there is no statistical register of this," Kenney said.

Canada and the U.S. are the only two countries in the developed world that have an automatic inheritance of citizenship if you're born on their soil, Kenney said. He told CBC that he's asked his department to look at options for change.

"The idea is that we don't want to encourage birth tourism or what some people call passport babies," Kenney said.

"And maybe our citizenship laws are rooted in a time when people couldn't fly over here, fly in and out so quickly, so easily. I think maybe there's a need to modernize our approach."

Kasra Nejatian, Kenney's press secretary, condemned the birth tourism practice in an interview with the Chinese news agency Ming Pao, stressing the behaviour is unfair to Canadians.

On Feb. 16 the Conservative government introduced sweeping legislation aimed at cracking down on bogus refugees, particularly Europeans whose claims, the Tories say, are generally considered to be unfounded.

"Canada's asylum system is broken," Kenney said after tabling Bill C-31 in the House of Commons.

The new omnibus bill will deport so-called "bogus" refugee claimants quicker, clamp down on human smugglers and require certain visa holders to turn over biometric data.

Billed as an improvement to the Balanced Refugee Reform Act adopted during the previous minority Parliament but not yet implemented, the new legislation effectively reintroduces contentious elements that were omitted so the Tories could reach a consensus with the opposition.

-- Postmedia News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 27, 2012 A9

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