The phrase “Canadians of convenience” was coined eight years ago, during an evacuation of many Canadians who had been living in Lebanon. “Birth tourism” is a special form of such a convenience, not linked to any such crisis. It enables newborns to be instant citizens of Canada, though their parents are not Canadian – “anchor babies” who could eventually sponsor their parents.
The federal Conservative government, to its credit, has made an effort to encourage in new citizens a sense of a strong connection to Canada. It has now emerged that it is considering eliminating so-called birth tourism, which tends to engender a tenuous sense of being Canadian.
To this end, jus soli, the right of citizenship arising from being born “on the soil” of Canada, would be abolished and replaced by jus sanguinis, citizenship by right of “blood,” that is, by descent. Most countries similar to Canada – except the United States – have either made this change, or have applied jus sanguinis for centuries.
But the government is right to proceed with caution, for practical reasons. Consequently, no such change was included in the recent revisions to the Citizenship Act.
Whatever course is taken, the result should not be stateless infants.
At present, however, birth certificates are the most common proof of Canadian citizenship. They do not include any information about a newborn baby’s parents’ citizenship.
Hospitals are a provincial jurisdiction. That is one of the reasons why the provinces and territories have been in charge of birth certificates for a long time. The subnational governments of Canada would doubtless not be eager to spend a huge amount of money to overhaul their birth-certificate system – let alone unanimously.
Ottawa could choose to foot the bill. But if the government is to go any further, it should commission a rigorous study to discover whether so-called birth tourism is a significant phenomenon. So far, the evidence is anecdotal. The available numbers in a given year are in the low hundreds. The real numbers may be higher, but it would be premature to remake the basics of our citizenship on a hunch.