Birth tourism seen as at ‘tipping point’ in B.C.

VANCOUVER — Birth tourism needs to be curtailed by the federal government as the Canadian health care system is “struggling to meet the needs of our own citizens,” says Dr. Kathleen Ross, president of Doctors of B.C.

Births by non-residents seeking to get instant Canadian citizenship for newborns now accounts for about a quarter of all deliveries at Richmond Hospital, according to the latest federal data, but the issue is not getting any attention from political parties even with the federal election in full swing.

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In the past six months, Ross has delivered two babies to birth tourists at Royal Columbian Hospital and in both cases, they left the hospital without paying her fees. Ross would not disclose which country the patients came from, but said they have ignored multiple invoices sent “after the fact” to the addresses they supplied. The physician fee for vaginal deliveries ranges between $600 and $1,500.

B.C. hospitals ask for deposits when non-residents register, $13,300 for a caesarean section and $8,200 for a vaginal delivery. But those fees are for hospital costs only.

Physicians who work on a fee-for-service basis, as do many of those who deliver babies, have great difficulty collecting their separate fees from birth tourists, Ross said. Occasionally, hospital lawyers have to sue foreign patients in a bid to be paid.

Ross said it is clear that some birth tourists have “no intention” of paying their bills and that doctors in many provinces are starting to talk about how to address the problems.

She said the federal election campaign is a perfect time to start talking about the fact that if Canadian citizenship weren’t so easy to obtain simply by being born here, it is doubtful the numbers of birth tourists would be going up the way they are.

“We’re at a crisis, a tipping point, so it’s really important that some higher authority takes this on,” Ross said. “Hospitals and doctors have no option but to provide service. We can’t turn people away if they are sick, injured or in labour.”

The federal Conservatives flirted with a potential clampdown on birth tourism in the past, and the current Liberal government has said it was studying the matter. But no leader has commented during the current campaign about potential changes.

Data for the last fiscal year provided by the Canadian Institute for Health Information shows that eight of the top 10 most popular hospitals for non-resident births are in Ontario, with the other two in B.C.

Births to non-resident mothers, a category that also includes international students and other non-permanent residents who are expected to pay for their medical and hospital services, are also growing in frequency in Alberta.

Across Canada, hospital discharge data show that there were 4,099 births to non-residents in 2018-19 (excluding Quebec), compared to 3,628 the year before. While the number has been increasing every year for the past decade, non-resident births account for only about two per cent of all births in Canada.

However, at Richmond Hospital last year, they accounted for 23.1 per cent of all births. At St. Paul’s Hospital in downtown Vancouver, they accounted for 10.3 per cent of all births.

Andrew Griffith, a fellow at the Environics Institute and the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said 454 non-resident women delivered babies at Richmond Hospital and 139 non-residents gave birth at St. Paul’s Hospital in 2018-19 .

An Angus Reid poll this year showed that 64 per cent of Canadians were opposed to granting automatic Canadian citizenship to babies born to birth tourists.

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