Conservatives want to end ‘birth tourism’ in Canada — but what exactly is the contested issue?

Click to play video: 'What is birth tourism and how birthright citizenship works in Canada'
What is birth tourism and how birthright citizenship works in Canada
WATCH: What is birth tourism and how birthright citizenship works in Canada – Aug 27, 2018

The Conservative Party is calling for an end of birthright citizenship, meaning if you are born in Canada that does not automatically make you a Canadian citizen.

Currently, Canada’s law says anyone who is born on Canadian soil receives citizenship (even if your parents aren’t Canadian citizens). But this law has been highly debated, with some politicians and citizens dubbing it “birth tourism.”

So what is so-called birth tourism and why is it so controversial in Canada?

What is ‘birth tourism’

So-called “birth tourism” is when pregnant, non-Canadian women fly to Canada in order to give birth and secure citizenship for their babies.

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The practice has received criticism in the past, with a petition started in March by a Richmond, B.C. resident, Kerry Starchuk. The petition urges the government to end the policy, and claims people are taking advantage of the policy to receive Canada’s benefits.

In addition to receiving benefits, like healthcare and education, when the children become adults, they can also sponsor their parents to immigrate to Canada.

The petition, supported by Liberal Richmond MP Joe Peschisolido, says the practice of “birth tourism” is very costly for taxpayers, “since it can be used to gain access to Canada’s publicly subsidized post-secondary education system and to take advantage of Canada’s public healthcare system and generous social security programs, all without having to contribute much to the funding of these systems and programs.”

WATCH: The Conservative party is hoping to end birth right citizenship. That’s when Canadian citizenship is granted to anyone who is born in our country, even if their parents aren’t Canadian citizens. Abigail Bimman reports.

Click to play video: 'Conservatives look to end birth tourism in Canada'
Conservatives look to end birth tourism in Canada

How does birthright citizenship work?

Jus soli, or citizenship by birth on soil, has been in place since the first Canadian Citizenship Act in 1947. Since then, any person born in Canada is automatically a Canadian citizen, with the exception of children of diplomats.

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The parent of the child does not gain Canadian citizenship this way. The parent can try to remain in the country as a temporary resident as a visitor, a student or a worker. But Canadian immigration will not automatically grant foreign national parents temporary resident status because of the birthright citizenship rule.

Canada is one of the few developed countries, along with the United States, which grants citizenship to babies who are born here.

Birth tourism is also not illegal in Canada — but there is a caveat.

A Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) spokesperson told the Vancouver Sun that pregnancy is “not a reason in itself to not admit a tourist.” However, if a foreign national is seeking entry to Canada for the purpose of undergoing medical treatment and can’t show he or she has the money to pay for it, then that person could be deemed by a CBSA officer as a potential excessive demand on health service, “thus making that individual inadmissible.”

According to Statistics Canada, 313 babies were born to non-Canadian mothers in 2016. That number has gone down significantly since 2012 when Statistics Canada reported that 699 babies were born to non-Canadian mothers.

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Dangers of getting rid of the policy

After the Conservatives passed the policy, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh took to Twitter to condemn the idea and said it is something that “even Trump has resisted.”

WATCH: Petition against ‘birth tourism’ gains steam

Click to play video: 'Petition against ‘birth tourism’ gains steam'
Petition against ‘birth tourism’ gains steam

Alberta Conservative MP Deepak Obhrai also urged delegates to stick with the status quo.

“This is a fundamental question of equality out here. Any person who is born in Canada, by law, is entitled to be a Canadian,” Obhrai said. “We cannot choose who is going to be a Canadian and who is not going to be a Canadian.”

Immigration lawyer and CEO of VisaPlace, Michael Niren, called birthright citizenship a “non-issue” and Conservatives should be concentrating on larger immigration challenges, such as the influx of refugees.

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“There are problems with immigration in Canada, but birth tourism is not one. It is a politicized concept,” he said. “Conservatives are trying to energize their base.”

He said that even U.S. President Donald Trump, who has criticized America’s immigration laws as being too weak, has not attacked birth tourism, as it is “a non-issue.”

Niren added that birth tourism could also benefit Canada.

WATCH: Canada needs thousands more skilled immigrants to boost economy, advisers say

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Canada needs thousands more skilled immigrants to boost economy: advisers

“Birth rates are low right now, and birth tourism babies are going to grow up and be educated in this system and productive members of society, especially if they are brought up in our culture,” he said.

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He said the solution is not about “throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” but potentially changing at how immigrants can access social services, like healthcare.

Can the Conservatives end it?

The resolution, which is non-binding, was supported by a slight majority of delegates from the party. It amends the party’s policy book to state: “We encourage the government to enact legislation which will fully eliminate birthright citizenship in Canada unless one of the parents of the child born in Canada is a Canadian citizen or permanent resident of Canada.”

This isn’t the first time the Conservatives tried to end the practice.

In 2014, immigration officials urged the Harper government to change the country’s citizenship rules in order to target birth tourism. But no action was taken by that Conservative government.

Richmond, B.C. — the epicentre of birth tourism?

In 2016, a Vancouver Sun investigation found that the B.C. government was aware of 26 “baby houses” in the province that offered pregnant foreign mothers temporary room and board before and after giving birth in local hospitals.

Starchuk, the Richmond resident who has called on the government to end birth tourism, said she started the petition because she suspected a house next door to hers serves as one of the “baby houses.”

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In an interview with the Vancouver Sun, Starchuk claimed the house next to hers was operating as a “maternity motel for pregnant women from China.”

WATCH: B.C. politicians make renewed call for an end to the policy of allowing so-called “passport babies” 

Click to play video: 'B.C. politicians make renewed call for an end to the policy of allowing so-called “passport babies” in Canada'
B.C. politicians make renewed call for an end to the policy of allowing so-called “passport babies” in Canada

“I want neighbours. I don’t want people that are coming and going that have no connection here,” she told the Vancouver Sun. “I don’t have a problem with a baby, but I have a problem with the long-term consequences.”

What about other countries?

Australia and New Zealand and many European nations have changed their birthright citizenship laws, granting citizenship to babies only when at least one parent is a citizen or legal resident.

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Some countries, like India, have abolished it completely.

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