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A Liberal MP is calling on the federal government to address the practice of non-resident mothers coming to Canada to give birth, which he calls an “awful practice” that must be stopped.

Joe Peschisolido, Liberal MP for Steveston-Richmond East, says he has spoken with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Ahmed Hussen about the issue of “birth tourism” and expects a response from government to be forthcoming.

Mr. Peschisolido said such practice is taking advantage of Canadian immigration and health-care systems.

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“You have folks who are buying their way into Canada. Their children spent the first seven to 14 days of their lives and then they leave, and they become Canadian citizens without contributing anything to Canada," he said in an interview on Thursday.

"These folks don’t deserve Canadian citizenship.”

Across British Columbia, babies born to non-resident mothers accounted for about 2 per cent of almost 43,000 births in 2017-18. But Richmond Hospital has been called an epicentre of the practice because about half of the province’s non-resident births take place there.

From April 1, 2018, to Feb. 7, 2019, there were 389 births to non-resident mothers at Richmond Hospital. In 2017-18, there were 474, and in 2016-17, 383. Since 2014, newborns of non-resident parents accounted for between 15 per cent and 22 per cent of all babies born at the hospital.

At St. Paul’s Hospital in downtown Vancouver, 132 of 1,427 births in 2017-18 were to non-residents – or about 9 per cent of all births. That is up slightly from 7 per cent in 2016-17 and 6 per cent the year before.

It is legal for non-residents to give birth in Canada, which then grants the baby citizenship. However, unlicensed companies operating in Richmond have drawn attention for selling packages, typically targeting Chinese citizens, that include accommodations, meals and other services to pregnant women before they have their babies.

“Our services include free pick-up before and after birth; free arrangements with obstetricians and family doctors; full-time accompaniment from registered B.C. nurses during labour; assistance with getting birth certificates, passports, visas etc.,” read one ad on a Chinese-language website.

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Mr. Peschisolido sponsored a petition by a Richmond resident in opposition of such births, and says he has discussed the matter with Mr. Hussen.

“I hope the government responds by saying this is a problem, that the federal government has to implement concrete measures to disrupt and end birth tourism,” he said.

Mr. Hussen could not be reached for an interview on Thursday.

All non-residents who give birth at Richmond Hospital are required to make prepayment deposits of $10,000 for a vaginal birth and $15,000 for a caesarian birth, according to Carrie Stefanson, a spokeswoman for Vancouver Coastal Health. This amount would likely cover a straightforward birth, however costs could increase if mother or child needed additional care, she said. Non-residents are required to pay for all hospital costs and medical care.

Asked whether non-resident births affect operations at Richmond Hospital, Ms. Stefanson noted that overall births have remained fairly consistent as resident births have decreased in recent years.

All maternity units occasionally reach capacity and need to divert mothers to other hospitals, but this also happens when a mother or newborn need a higher level of care, she said.

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“I can tell you that all of the diversions in 2018/19 at Richmond Hospital were based on moms requiring higher levels of care,” Ms. Stefanson wrote in an e-mail.

Vancouver immigration lawyer Richard Kurland argues the overall numbers involved are relatively low, adding that the number of “non-residents” giving birth in B.C. includes out-of-province visitors, international students and temporary foreign workers as well as those considered birth tourists.

He says authorities could address any abuse or exploitation of the system without getting rid of Canada’s tradition of granting citizenship to people born on its soil.

“It’s a tempest in a teapot – it’s not even all of Richmond, it’s just a couple teeny parts of Richmond – and for that, you’re going to change a nation’s citizenship law? It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever, especially when there are alternatives available," Mr. Kurland said.

He also sees a role for municipal authorities, such as Richmond, in licensing and regulating birth houses, in the same way many cities have taken steps to regulate short-term rentals.

Mr. Peschisolido said that although the numbers are small, this issue still needs to be addressed. “Folks are preying on our generosity.”

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Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly described Richard Kurland as an immigration consultant, when he is an immigration lawyer.

With a report from Wendy Stueck

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