The Conservative government has found yet another way to diminish reproductive rights in Canada. This time, they’re targeting “foreign nationals” in an attempt to crack down on something they have dubbed with the sensationalist title “birth tourism.”
Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney claims that significant numbers of people from other countries are coming to Canada for short periods of time and giving birth to babies who then have Canadian citizenship. He refers to this practice as an “access key to the Canadian welfare state by cynically misrepresenting yourself.” Under this supposed practice of “birth tourism,” the Canadian-born children will then sponsor their parents to come to Canada when they turn 18. It’s unclear what the child or parent(s) are doing during these 18 years.
To fix the so-called problem of “birth tourism” (or “anchor babies”), Kenney is suggesting switching from a system of jus soli — basically, if you’re born on Canadian “soil” you have Canadian citizenship — to one of jus sanguinis — you inherit citizenship through your parents’ “blood.”
Obviously, there are a lot of problems with this. Firstly, it is absurd to come to the conclusion that significant numbers of people are flying to Canada while pregnant to give birth in the hopes of obtaining citizenship 18 years later. Seriously. You would have to be relatively wealthy to engage in any sort of “birth tourism” and wealthy people already have much greater access to Canadian citizenship. Also, Kenney states “birth tourism” is “a pretty blatant violation of Canada’s generosity.” Since when are government officials worried about wealthy people taking advantage of the Canadian welfare state? They aren’t.
This isn’t going to affect wealthy people. This is going to affect migrant workers, refugees and students. And that makes sense, since that’s exactly who Kenney and the Conservatives want to keep out of Canada. Reproductive justice includes the right to have children and the right to parent those children. How can refugee women have the right to have children when these children won’t be granted citizenship? Since when does refugee status mean you’re unfit to raise children? Oh right – since Canada was built on its colonial foundations. With the Conservatives in charge, women’s access to reproductive rights is precarious at best, especially women from marginalized populations.
Calling it “birth tourism” erases the conditions under which refugees have come to Canada. It trivializes their experiences and frames them as people out to “take advantage” of the Canadian system.
News coverage of this issue has referenced the fact that Canada and the United States are the only two “developed” nations with birth citizenship. Europe, as they point out, has inheritance citizenship. But let’s think about why for a second. If Canada had inheritance citizenship throughout its history, Jason Kenney wouldn’t be a Canadian citizen. In fact, Canada wouldn’t exist because none of the people who colonized this country had any blood claims to this land. Immigrants to Canada were granted citizenship based on being born here in order to complete the colonial project and build the nation. Birth right citizenship isn’t founded in any principles of Canadian generosity; it’s founded in a fucked up process of colonization, and now that Kenney and the Conservatives feel Canada is sufficiently white, they want to tighten the controls on who gets in. No one who is descended from Canada’s original colonizers has any more inherent right to be on this land than the children of more recent immigrants. However, this is exactly what this change would enact.
The Conservative’s move to crack down on “birth tourism” is indicative of a broader movement to define the “ideal” citizen and define reproduction in terms of nation-building. On one hand, having children is seen as the behaviour of “good citizens.” Children are necessary to a country, and the “imagined” or “future” child is always of primary concern to politicians. However, as Kenney has made perfectly clear, the “future” child is that of a white, neoliberal Western family structure exhibiting Western capitalist values. If someone doesn’t fit within this idea of “ideal” citizenship, then having children becomes a malicious act — it is a threat to the nation-building project. “Birth tourism” is not the enormous problem the Conservative government is framing it as; they do not even have statistics showing how many children born to “foreign nationals” are given citizenship rights each year. The real panic is that people who do not fit with the Conservative’s idea of Canada may use resources that the Conservatives think belong to “Canadians.” In fact, Kenney has said that “birth tourism” “ undermines the value of Canadian citizenship” even if it just happens once. This is both xenophobic and absurd.
This cannot be more evident than in the paradox of reopening the abortion debate to ensure Canadian citizens have children, while making it impossible for refugee or migrant workers to have Canadian children. Having the government deem you a “good citizen” should not be a prerequisite to have children.
This post was written by guest contributor, Ilaina Decter. Ilaina is a third year linguistics student at the University of Victoria and a coordinator of UVic Pride.