CAIRN-INT.INFO : International Edition

1At first blush, “maternity tourism” — the phenomenon of foreign women giving birth in a jus soli country in order to secure a favorable citizenship for their children — might seem like a curious case from which to explore the applicability of the civic integration paradigm to Canada. Birthright citizenship, after all, is first order citizenship. It lies at the heart of nation — natio, which, in its Latin origin, means birth, race, and in French as “a people united by common language and culture” and “family lineage”. [1] Birthright citizenship, moreover, is the form of belonging to which naturalization and integration processes aspire. Civic integration, meanwhile, concerns nationally inflected, liberal-democratic values, labour force participation, morality (and relatedly, personal, religious and familial conduct), appropriate interaction with the welfare state, and newcomers’ engagement in public life (see, for example, Mouritsen, Jensen and Larin, 2019: 601). Through the demonstration of appropriate values and behavior, prospective members demonstrate their worthiness for inclusion before they join the political community. This is a tall order for an infant. Yet, the pre-COVID frisson around “maternity tourism” in Canada demonstrates the degree to which children are never very far from their parents. When foreign mothers give birth in Canada, political debates surrounding the worthiness of their children to be citizens have almost nothing to do with the children themselves. These infants are, as a former Conservative Minister of Citizenship and Immigration once stated, “blank slates”. [2] Instead, the debate around whether to grant citizenship to all children born on Canadian soil, regardless of the citizenship status of their parents, circulates around long-standing practice and a desire for procedural simplicity on the one hand, and on the other, the morality, motivations and affiliations of parents, the costs of these births for the healthcare system, and, relatedly, the displacement of Canadian birthing mothers from services to which they should be entitled. [3] Class, gender and race subtend these arguments since, in the Canadian context, the stereotypical maternity tourist is an affluent Chinese woman using health care services in Vancouver or Toronto. [4] Concerns about maternity tourism are synchronous with anxieties around the impact of foreign (read: Asian) investors driving up real estate prices and creating an affordability crisis in housing markets (Gold, 2018; Ley, 2010). Anti-Asian sentiment has been inflamed by a narrative that displaces accountability for a lack of housing affordability from Canadian governments to racialized foreigners. The spectre of pregnant Asian women arriving in Canada to secure citizenship for their infants adds fuel to an already incendiary mix of racial and class tensions. This fraught context ensures that children born in Canada to foreign mothers exist in a liminal space — on the veranda of citizenship. In the contestation over the worthiness of their belonging, we learn what Canadian nationals view as the basis for anyone to be a Canadian citizen, even if those expectations are only selectively applied.

2To be clear, “maternity tourism” is not a real problem in Canada (or anywhere, I would argue). Statistics Canada reports that, between 2006-2016, the percentage of births to non-resident women has ranged from 0.06 to 0.18% of total births annually (233-699 babies) (cited in Griffith, 2018: without pagination). And while the accuracy of this data is disputed, even the highest estimate reports the rate at 1.2% of total births, (4,099 births in 2018) (Favaro and Flanagan, 2019: without pagination). Moreover, the reasons why a non-resident [5] may give birth in Canada are various — they may be Canadians who normally reside abroad, international students, or temporary foreign workers, for example. The numbers are miniscule, and, appropriately, the actual policy response has been negligible. Nonetheless, the inadequacy of the data, the media’s pursuit of attention-grabbing stories, and nationalist, nativist or other motivations have ensured that jus soli citizenship acquisition by the children of foreign mothers has, at various times, attracted an impressive volume of sound and fury, begging the question as to what, exactly, “the problem” is. In “thick” civic integration terms, the concerns about the reproductive decision-making of foreign women circulate around their lack of national attachment to Canada and, relatedly, their lack of engagement in the cultural and civic life of the nation that would ensure that these women and their children are appropriately acculturated. As in many European contexts, civic integrationists’ assertion that citizens will demonstrate appropriate liberal democratic commitments is accompanied by a related expectation of appropriate fealty and moral commitment to the (Canadian) nation (Gustavsson, 2019; Schinkel and van Houdt, 2010). For those inclined to thinner forms of national attachment, maternity tourists are critiqued for their perceived exploitation of the generosity of the Canadian welfare state — of taking from the public weal without also making the requisite contributions. The pursuit of a safety citizenship is thus regarded as, at best, a disingenuous, instrumental attachment to Canada; at worst, as fraud.

3This analysis makes two contributions to the civic integration literature. It situates the insights of civic integration within the context of a birthright citizenship debate, and it shifts the conversation of civic integration from its western European origins to a settler, multicultural state. Nation, race and belonging have distinct expressions in the Canadian citizenship context, as indeed they do in western European states (van Reekum and van den Berg, 2015: 742; Mouritsen, Jensen and Larin, 2019: 599). Founded on the dispossession and colonization of Indigenous peoples by French and British settlers in the first instance, Canada envisions itself as a nation of immigrants that is broadly welcoming of diversity. This xenophilic attitude has an evil twin of xenophobia that articulates a racial hierarchy, defining White Canadians with European heritage as emblematic of the Canadian citizen (Honig, 2001; Thobani, 2007). Importantly, both supporters and detractors of Canadian diversity have a tendency to overlook or diminish the significance of the country’s colonial origins, or, indeed, to deny them outright. [6] Nonetheless, we can see the broad applicability of key features of the civic integration paradigm as a means of understanding the dynamics of contemporary citizenship discourse — for both newcomers and birthright citizens. Indeed, expressions of what it means to be a good citizen reveal the host state’s imaginings of both would-be citizens and first-order, citizen-nationals. The disciplining narratives that articulate the maternity tourism debate thus serve as a caution and instruction for Canadians, even as their secured citizenship ensures that they are not required to actively demonstrate appropriate national virtues and behaviors.

4The paper proceeds by outlining the broad legal and political context for the maternity tourism debate in Canada, and then turns to an elaboration of the elements of the civic integration paradigm that are especially helpful in understanding the maternity tourism debate and the demand to amend Canada’s jus soli citizenship provisions. These elements include: the co-articulation of liberal democratic values with nationalism, multiculturalism and race; the emphasis on morality as a pre-requisite for belonging; and appropriate interaction with the welfare state. The tension between neoliberalism and national belonging is a noteworthy feature of the citizenship argument in which maternity tourism is located. This analysis highlights the expectations of Canadian citizenship, not in a positive valence, as civic integration policies often seek to do, but in the negative — through offences to political belonging that allegedly emerge when foreign women purposefully seek Canadian citizenship for their children by giving birth in Canada. As for the babies, their futurity, hope and promise are tainted from the outset. Rather than positively envisioning what contributions they might eventually make to Canada; these children are inexorably cast as the inheriting agents of their mothers’ malfeasance: a conduit to undeserved citizenship for the whole family.

Legal and Political Context

5Birth-based claims to Canadian citizenship can be made on the basis of both jus soli — birth on Canadian territory — and jus sanguinis — birth abroad to a Canadian parent. Non-Canadian parents who give birth to a child in Canada do not acquire a “right to remain”, freedom from deportation, or expedited access to citizenship, at least, not in the short term. Furthermore, a Canadian born child may be obliged to leave the country if her non-Canadian parents are deported, giving rise to concerns about the robustness of the citizenship guarantee for children in such a situation (Meloni et al., 2013). Applications for a deportation stay might be made on humanitarian and compassionate grounds in such cases, but there is no guarantee that a stay will be granted.

6Once the child reaches the age of majority, resides in Canada and finds work, they may be able to provide a pathway to citizenship for their parent(s) through a family sponsorship application. Nonetheless, from the perspective of the parent, this is a very long gamble. Indeed, as part of the Harper government’s strategy to increase economic class immigrants and reduce the family class, family sponsorship requirements became considerably more demanding. A Canadian applying to sponsor a parent is required to earn an income at least 30% above the low-income cut-off and the tenure of their sponsorship obligation was extended from ten to twenty years (Canada 2013, [7] cited in Forcier and Dufour: 5). Aligning with civic integrationist concerns regarding undue pressure on social programs, these reforms were justified as a means to reduce the fiscal impact of these family class immigrants and protect against alleged abuse of the social protection system (Forcier and Dufour, 2016: 5). Notably, the J. Trudeau Liberals have maintained these regulations. In the broader context of the maternity tourism debate then, the accusation that foreign women are “jumping the immigration queue” by giving birth in Canada — and thus acting immorally, if not illegally — is unwarranted. It will be very difficult for their children to remain in Canada, and while the children’s birth in the country certainly gives them more life options once they reach adulthood, the fact that they will spend their formative years abroad will undoubtedly affect the exercise of those options. If the aim of giving birth in Canada is a future citizenship for the parents, that objective has to be placed in the context of the Canadian state’s requirements for family sponsorship. Stringent family sponsorship regulations effectively do the work of civic integration by obliging the birthright citizen child to be contributing sufficiently to the Canadian economy and willing to unburden the Canadian welfare state by supporting their parent(s).

7The prospect that non-Canadian women might mobilize the possibilities of Canada’s jus soli citizenship provision by giving birth in Canada has sporadically emerged as a political issue in tandem with similar panics in other Anglo-American democracies and jus soli countries, and in response to political developments in Canada and, notably, Asia. The concern first appeared on the Canadian political agenda in 1994, in the midst of a Constitutional crisis, the promise of a second Quebec sovereignty referendum, and the impending handover of Hong Kong from the UK to China. Among a number of proposed reforms presented under the title: Canadian Citizenship: A Sense of Belonging, the Liberal-led House of Commons Standing Committee for Citizenship and Immigration recommended amending Canada’s Citizenship Act so as to limit jus soli citizenship to the children of Canadian citizens and permanent residents. [8] Three subsequent, but unsuccessful, Liberal attempts (1998-2003) to amend the Citizenship Act, however, did not propose to alter its jus soli provisions (Dolin and Young, 2002).

8The idea of abolishing jus soli citizenship re-emerged in the 2010s when revelations of “maternity hotels” and reports of foreign women giving birth in Canadian hospitals sparked further popular and political debate. The re-emergence of the maternity tourism issue corresponded with the implementation of a number of civic integrationist measures as part of the Conservative government’s reforms to Canada’s citizenship and immigration laws (Winter, 2018: 229-230; Joppke, 2013: 3-4). It was in this context that elements of the civic integration paradigm — especially the expectation that good citizenship be expressed in personal conduct and family life and proper interaction with the welfare state — came to the fore (Gaucher, 2018: without pagination; Mouritsen, Jensen and Larin, 2019: 601). The Conservative Harper government very seriously contemplated such an amendment in 2012-2013 (Minister of Immigration, Jason Kenney, cited in Yelaja, 2012: without pagination), but provincial resistance to incurring the processing costs and the disproportionate bureaucratic inconvenience to Canadian citizen parents that such a transformation would impose, particularly given the minimal incidences of births to foreign mothers, brought a halt to that initiative (Griffith, 2018).

9Then, in August 2018, the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) narrowly adopted a non-binding resolution to end “birth tourism” at its party convention (Raj and Maloney, 2018). The resolution was sparked by a petition of a mere 8,568 signatories, initiated by a Richmond, British Columbia resident, Kerry Starchuk, and supported by her Conservative Member of Parliament, Alice Wong, who insisted that the problem was “rampant” in the riding (Bourgon, 2017; Humphrey, 2018). [9] Indeed, foreign women’s demands on the resources of the Richmond Hospital were alleged to be depriving maternity access to Canadian women (Wood, 2015). As with the 1994 recommendation, the 2018 resolution proposed limiting jus soli citizenship to the children of citizens and permanent residents. [10] Notably, while the Liberal Party had authored the Standing Committee’s recommendation in the 1990s, a different set of political calculations prevailed in 2018. The J. Trudeau Liberals owed much of their 2015 electoral success to a message of inclusion. “A citizen is a citizen is a citizen” had been a campaign mantra, and a clear differentiator between the two main party rivals. In response to the 2018 Conservative policy vote, Prime Minister Trudeau’s then principal secretary, Gerald Butts, described the Conservative resolution as “a deeply wrong and disturbing idea” (Bronskill, 2018: without pagination). [11] Tellingly, the Conservatives made no mention of the resolution in their party platform for the 2019 Federal election (Gaucher and Larios, 2020).

10Senior public servants have also expressed a range of views regarding whether and how to address maternity tourism. In testimony before the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration in 1994, a senior official in Citizenship and Immigration was clear that he did not support the Citizenship Act’s birthright citizenship provision. Asked to comment, from a departmental perspective, on why the Citizenship Act needed to be revised, Richard Nolan (registrar for citizenship), invoking the queue-jumping argument, stated:


“Probably the major driving force is the fact that a person can be in the country for less than three days and get their citizenship. It’s something I think we all find offensive, but it’s now allowable under the act.” [12]

12In 2018, a former director general at Citizenship and Immigration Canada observed that:


“Fewer than 0.1% of total births in Canada in the last 10 years (except 2012) involved births of children to foreign mothers… [A]n impartial observer would conclude that there is currently no business case for changing Canada’s birth policy.” (Griffith cited in Liew, 2018: without pagination)

14He felt that the maternity tourism problem might be better addressed through more focused, disciplinary measures, such as “making it more expensive to access Canadian medical care; making suspected birth tourism grounds for visa refusal; and banning or regulating ‘birth tourism hotels’” (Griffith, 2018). Still, with the Conservative Party of Canada and U.S. President Donald Trump fueling the flames of the jus soli debate, interest in the data on birth tourism has intensified. A public opinion poll conducted in the spring of 2019 found that only 24% of Canadians felt that a child born in Canada to a woman on a tourist visa should be granted citizenship. [13] Interestingly, support for citizenship jumped to 55% for a child born to two parents on work visas — signaling a civic integrationist mentality around economic contribution. [14] The Liberal federal immigration minister announced that his department had commissioned further research “in order to get a better picture of the scope of this issue and its impacts on Canada”. [15]

Civic Integration and Maternity Tourism

15There are three key themes within the civic integration paradigm that are especially helpful for making sense of the citizenship debate that circulates around maternity tourism. These include the collision of liberal democratic values with multicultural skepticism and nationalism; an emphasis on morality; and appropriate interaction with the welfare state. I will briefly consider each of these themes as they relate to the Canadian maternity tourism context.


16Civic integrationist policies arose in Europe in response to a growing skepticism towards multiculturalism, sparked in no small measure by an increase in Muslim migrants to these countries. Western European states’ insistence on liberal democratic values as the cornerstone of their national identities were thus articulated as oppositional to an orientalist vision of Muslim migrants’ values (Mouritsen et al., 2019: 633). They argue that this focus is motivated by a desire to mark boundaries and to assert civilizational superiority, even if the specifics of those liberal democratic values vary across countries (Mouritsen et al., 2019: 633). In the Canadian context, by contrast, multiculturalism is a liberal democratic value. Multiculturalism remains a key feature of the national identity and attitudes towards migrants are considerably more favorable (Smith, 2019). That said, Islamophobia and the “clash of civilizations” discourse have also gained traction in Canada (Huntington, 1996). The Harper Conservatives, for example, imposed a number of explicitly anti-Muslim policies, including prohibiting people from taking the citizenship oath if they were wearing a face covering. [16] This policy was directed at women who wear the niqab, and it was ultimately ruled unlawful. [17] The Conservatives also invoked the language of “barbaric cultural practices” in a revised citizenship guide, in speeches and in legislation — the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act, which, they claimed, was designed to address discrimination, inequality and violence against women and girls (Carlaw, 2017). [18] Importantly though, this overtly divisive rhetoric did not sit well with the majority of Canadians and was an important reason for the Conservatives’ electoral defeat in 2015 (Carlaw, 2017: 807).

17It might also be observed that just as liberal democratic values act as a litmus test for civic integration — defining who belongs and who has to prove their worthiness — Canadian multiculturalism as liberal democratic value does similar work. Multiculturalism in Canada, as elsewhere, relies on a national normative whiteness and liberality against which racial and cultural difference is articulated (Sharma, 2006: 27). Sunera Thobani, describing the process through which white Canadians reinforce their status as “exalted subjects”, observes that statist multiculturalism in Canada has constituted cultural difference:


“As the most significant aspect of the nation’s relations with its (internal) Others… With this move, race became reconfigured as culture and cultural identity became crystallized as political identity, with the core of the nation continuing to be defined as bilingual and bicultural (that is, white).” (Thobani, 2007: 145)

19As Thobani’s analysis unfolds, she describes the nationalist technology that such a statement deploys. While citizenship can be articulated in positive affirmations — the Constitution, important political speeches, heritage celebrations — dominant conceptions of the nation are also expressed in negative forms — “banal liturgies” cited against the presence of presumed migrants:


“Why don’t they speak English? Do they have to wear turbans? Why do they have to live in such large families? [...] their religions and customs are strange…” (Thobani, 2007: 79)

21Such statements perform boundary drawing work, communicating the substance and limits of Canadian national identity.

22The popular discourse surrounding maternity tourism can be read similarly. When foreign women who give birth in Canada are transformed into fraudulent, “maternity tourists”, everyone — citizens and migrants — learns again what it means to be normatively Canadian. In a remarkable illustration of the machinations of liberal multiculturalism, Chinese Canadian journalist Jan Wong, offered a withering indictment of people deemed to be “maternity tourists” in a contribution to a popular Toronto lifestyle periodical. After establishing her own entitlement to Canadian belonging — on the basis of her grandfather’s work on the Canadian Pacific Railway in the 1880s and his payment of the head tax imposed on Chinese immigrants to Canada [19] — she asserts:


“How about we stop lavishing our home-and-native assets on newborns unless their mothers have spent a few years in the country, preferably as landed immigrants or citizens themselves; instead, let’s issue one-way, exit-only, good-for-travel-back-to-the-motherland documents for the infants. Canadian citizenship shouldn’t be a freebie to anyone whose mother waddles through the airport arrivals lounge. I expect Grandfather Chong would approve.” (Wong, 2014: without pagination)

24This response further underscores the racial hierarchy of Canadian belonging. With whiteness as Canada’s presumptive racial identity, racialized Canadians are inherently positioned as “internal foreigners” or, in Mae Ngai’s phrasing, “alien citizens” (2007: 2521). Despite generations of settlement, “the foreignness of non-European peoples is deemed unalterable, making nationality a kind of racial trait” (Ngai, 2007: 2521). In an economy of race and worthiness, then, racialized Canadians are compelled to assert their proximity to the nation. To do otherwise would risk the legitimacy of their inclusion in the Canadian multicultural nation and potentially damage their “solidified-yet-always-insecure position” within Canada’s racial hierarchy (Wang, 2017: 269-270). As Schinkel and van Houdt argue, national “norms and values” define the path of cultural conversion for newcomers (even if those newcomers have been in the country for multiple generations) and “lay on the ‘liberal’ and ‘enlightened’ tradition that defines the national community” (2010: 712). Moreover, when the default racial association of liberal democratic values is with whiteness, other racialized people are viewed with suspicion and obliged to prove their civic/national commitments.

Values and Morality

25Theorists of civic integration have noted an expansion of host society expectations around the concept of “good citizenship”. In many European states, it is not enough for newcomers to be active labour market participants who volunteer in their communities. They must also demonstrate appropriate personal conduct and values (Mouritsen, Jensen and Larin, 2019: 601; Schinkel and van Houdt, 2010: 697). Similar expectations are evident in the maternity tourism context, although again, they are levied on the non-citizen mothers rather than their citizen infants. The logic here seems to be that a child who is raised in a (foreign) household, where instrumental rationality prevails, is unlikely to demonstrate the requisite fealty, or at least connection, to the nation. Schinkel and van Houdt, in a discussion of both the differentiation and entwining of the formal and moral dimensions of citizenship, note that:


“The difference between ‘good’ or ‘active’ citizens and ‘inactive’ or ‘risky’ citizens is increasingly articulated along ethnic lines. […] Many persons subject to scrutiny with respect to their ‘integration’ are in possession of juridical citizenship and are thus citizens in the formal sense. If it then turns out they are lacking in ‘integration’, given the political and policy equalization between ‘integration’ and ‘citizenship’, they are not properly citizens after all.” (Schinkel and van Houdt, 2010: 706)

27Two observations in the maternity tourism context follow here. It is certainly reasonable to infer that children who are raised outside of their country of citizenship — as is the likely scenario for the Canadian children of maternity tourists — are unlikely to be well acculturated or “integrated” into Canadian society. But this lack of opportunity to integrate is not, in fact, the real concern about conferring citizenship on children born in Canada to non-citizen parents. Rather, the issue is that one day, these children, now adults, will mobilize their formal citizenship and return to Canada. They will access the entitlements of citizenship without their parents having paid the taxes that fund those entitlements — and they may eventually sponsor their family members as immigrants, enabling a form of queue jumping. Connection is coming (potentially): they could return, contribute, connect. But given the alleged immorality of the circumstances that made this (potential) connection possible in the first place, national membership, according to this line of argument, should not be possible. Whether or not a child who is raised outside of Canada will eventually find their way to their birthplace, acquire the financial wherewithal to be able to sponsor their relatives, let alone make their way through the very challenging, lengthy and expensive sponsorship process, is conveniently evaded in this story. Instead, the expectation that Canadians live within Canadian borders and only claim the benefits to which they (or their family members) have contributed is clearly communicated to citizens and would-be citizens alike.

28The second observation concerns the co-existence of national commitment with neoliberal morality. While nationalism (solidarity) and neoliberalism (individualism) might be viewed as paradoxical commitments, Schinkel and van Houdt bring them together in the civic integration context as a “neoliberal communitarian” mode of governing (2010: 699). Thus, citizens and migrants are called upon to demonstrate individual responsibility for their well-being, but they are to do so in the service of the national community. Foreign women who intentionally seek a desirable citizenship for their children by giving birth in Canada may well be highly devoted (moral) mothers and model neoliberal subjects whose entrepreneurial chutzpah and financial means have enabled them to mitigate future risk. However, in the absence of a more communitarian or solidaristic connection to Canada, that model neoliberal behavior falls short, treading into immorality.

Civic Integration and the Welfare State

29Given the role of welfare state policies in shoring up national identity, and the anxiety surrounding the effects of immigration on solidaristic nationalism, it is hardly surprising that civic integration policies have centrally engaged the welfare state as a tool for integration and national identity articulation. From parenting classes (van Reekum and van den Berg, 2015), to labor market activation (Breidahl, 2017) to schooling (Fernandez and Jensen, 2017), social programs have been viewed as a tool to transform immigrants into citizens (Borevi et al., 2017: 1). Of course, these integration initiatives are taking place within a particular context — the neoliberal welfare state. Emphasising individual responsibility, marketization and public sector austerity, neoliberal governance has re-shaped the nature of the commitment to collective well-being. Indeed, Will Kymlicka, the well-known Canadian philosopher of liberal multiculturalism, notes that while support for the welfare state remains strong, there has been a “a hardening of attitudes towards specific recipients… including the unemployed, single mothers and immigrants”, people who are adjudged to be “undeserving” (2015: 9). Kymlicka further observes that deservingness criteria include:


“‘Identity’ (the extent to which recipients are seen as belonging to a shared society), ‘attitude’ (the extent to which recipients are seen as accepting benefits in the spirit of civic friendship), and ‘reciprocity’ (the extent to which recipients are seen as likely to help others when it is their turn to do so).” (Kymlicka, 2015: 10)

31Considering the interaction of presumptive maternity tourists with the Canadian neoliberal welfare state, we can see these three criteria of deservingness in action. These women are not viewed as part of Canadian society, and they are framed as takers — thus they are not regarded as participating in civic friendship nor in the reciprocity expected of citizen-nationals. In the immediate circumstances, this is a judgement on the mothers. Even though they pay to birth their children in Canadian hospitals, their presence is regarded as taking space from a Canadian mother and placing undue burden on the healthcare system (Burns-Pieper and Mayor, 2020). As for the children, their undeservingness lies in the future. These instrumental citizens, the narrative goes, will avail themselves of a Canadian university education at domestic rates of tuition, even though their parents have not paid the taxes that fund post-secondary education.

Political Engagements

32In the remainder of this paper, I turn to two efforts to address maternity tourism by limiting access to jus soli citizenship. These efforts provide encapsulations of the dynamics of the three facets of the civic integration paradigm discussed above: nationalism/race/multiculturalism, morality and values, and welfare state entitlements. They also demonstrate the distance between the lofty principles of thick forms of civic integration and the banal administrative requirements that circumscribe the possibilities for change. Of course, bureaucratic technicalities can be overcome by political will. But in the absence of sufficient motivation for policy change, a public discourse of denigration and exclusion can realize its own disciplinary and corrosive outcomes. As the discussion about if and how to address what is, in fact, an insignificant policy issue unfolds, Canadians and would-be Canadians are schooled in the criteria of deservingness, and everyone learns what it means to be a Canadian citizen.

Proposing and Demurring — the Conservative Proposal to End Jus Soli

33The Conservative government of Stephen Harper, under Citizenship and Immigration (CIC) Minister Jason Kenney and his successor, Chris Alexander, undertook the most sustained reconsideration of Canada’s jus soli provision to date. In a secret briefing acquired by a former senior immigration official under a Freedom of Information request, and subsequently made public, CIC recommended that jus soli be limited to the Canadian born children of Canadian citizens and permanent residents, despite an admitted lack of data on the extent of the problem (Griffith, 2018; Yeates, n.d.: 1). In fact, the memo noted that:


“While the limited data available suggests that the incidence of children born in Canada as a result of maternity tourism may be small, anecdotal information indicates that the problem could be more widespread.” (Yeates, n.d.: 11-12)

35Anecdotes were, indeed, a prime mover and, despite additional consultations, were never offset by concrete data (Griffith, 2018). The threefold motivation for the change was evocative of civic integrationist objectives: ensuring that children who acquire citizenship by birth have a connection to Canada; strengthening program integrity; and protecting the value of citizenship (Yeates, n.d.: 1).

36The briefing goes on to lay out the various options and considerations in implementing the change. And while the higher order virtues associated with the integrity of the Canadian nation are consistently repeated as worthy policy objectives, the briefing also raises the likelihood that this citizenship reform proposal could founder at the level of bureaucratic processes and in the context of the division of responsibilities between the federal government and the provinces and territories. In Canada, provinces and territories issue birth certificates and these documents thus also serve as citizenship papers, since to be born in a province or territory is to be a Canadian. The citizenship status of the parents is not a matter of consideration. If citizenship was to be restricted to the babies of citizens and permanent residents, hospitals and registries would have additional responsibilities in acquiring the parents’ citizenship status and recording both the birth and citizenship information of the child.

37The briefing noted that these requirements might also lead to increased incidences of “fathers of convenience”. And while the document describes this phenomenon as a situation in which “a non-Canadian/non-permanent resident woman… claims that the child’s father is a citizen or permanent resident”, one might imagine a lucrative business opportunity offering up Canadian men willing to loan their paternity for a fee. [20] More seriously, one might also observe the presumption that a mother seeking a safe citizenship for her child by giving birth in Canada would be willing to extend her “fraudulent” behavior by falsely identifying the father. Immorality is, again, readily presumed, and the role of the family in ensuring good citizenship is underscored (Mouritsen, Jensen and Larin, 2019: 601).

38According to the briefing, the added work of citizenship verification could result in error, inconvenience, data access issues to confirm permanent residency status, and added cost — most worryingly — to the vast majority of parents who are Canadian citizens (Yeates, n.d.: 7). CIC was also concerned that this process could, in fact, make it more difficult to remove failed refugee claimants. If the Canadian-born children of these people were delayed in acquiring appropriate citizenship documents either because of an inability to access citizenship documents from their parents’ home country, or in a case of statelessness, the parents would have a claim to postpone their repatriation.

39Despite the unlikelihood that the technicalities could be overcome, the briefing nonetheless recommended that the Minister seek policy approval in principle to limit jus soli citizenship to the children of citizens and permanent residents, provide for children who would otherwise be stateless, and seek Cabinet approval to consult with the provinces and territories on implementation (Yeates, n.d.: 4). According to a former CIC official, the province of Ontario may have been instrumental in putting an end to the proposed change (Griffith, 2018). With 37% of Canadian births, Ontario would bear a disproportionate burden for the new policy. Responding to federal consultations, Ontario officials noted that there “is not enough evidence to justify the effort and expense for such a system-wide change” (cited in Griffith, 2018: without pagination).

40As it turned out, the Conservatives would not be afforded the opportunity to realize their jus soli limitation objective before they were defeated by the Liberal Party in 2015. Nonetheless, the issue has remained on their agenda, with the passage of a resolution to pursue a legislative change at the 2018 Conservative Party convention. [21] That resolution, as noted earlier, was inspired by a citizen-led petition and taken up by Conservative Member of Parliament, Alice Wong.

Conservative Resolution

41In a particularly illustrative description of the events precipitating the Conservative Party’s 2018 adoption of its resolution to limit jus soli citizenship to the children of citizens and permanent residents, the Christian Science Monitor outlined the story of Kerry Starchuk’s discovery of a “maternity hotel” in her Richmond, British Columbia neighborhood. Richmond, a city attached to Vancouver with a long-established Asian community, has been at the center of the maternity tourism phenomenon. In the news story, the journalist describes Starchuk attempting to deliver a plate of cookies to her new neighbors — who turned out to be two pregnant women, a man and a toddler (Miller Llana, 2019):


“The meeting began her personal battle against ‘birth tourism,’ where wealthy mothers like the ones she encountered next door pay to give birth, get citizenship for their babies, and return home.” (Miller Llana, 2019: without pagination)

43Race and class then intersect in this story, as Starchuk, who presents as white, is described as a part-time house cleaner who:


“Insists [that] her position is not anti-Chinese or anti-immigrant but is about rules and values, especially in a region where foreign wealth and capital have changed the face of communities.” (Miller Llana, 2019: without pagination)

45When queried about the effect that maternity hotels have, substantively, on her own citizenship, Starchuk insisted that:


“It does undermine me, because I’m trying to build community and welcome my neighbors to the neighborhood. And then I find out it’s not a single-family home where there’s going to be a new family but an international, underground birth-tourism hotel. […] It’s like selling citizenship.” (Miller Llana, 2019: without pagination)

47Starchuk is clearly invoking criteria of deserving/undeservingness through which her local identity is contrasted with internationalism, her desire to welcome her new neighbors is counterposed to a presumed disregard for the character of the community, and her offer of baked goods meets a failed reciprocity of “selling citizenship”. This story is also, of course, profoundly gendered. Pregnant, foreign women are represented as using their reproductive powers for their own selfish ends, while the Canadian citizen is insulted when her feminized demonstration of (national) hospitality encounters strangers doing strange things.

48The journalist goes on to note that Starchuk’s position is part of a broader pattern of anti-Asian behavior, given that she is well known in her community for her campaign to mandate English on business signage (Miller Llana, 2019; Bourgon, 2017). Nonetheless, she was successful in persuading her Conservative Member of Parliament to champion the citizenship issue on behalf of the constituency, after Starchuk established a national, online petition advocating for limitations on jus soli citizenship (Bourgon, 2017).

49As might have been anticipated, the convention discussion surrounding the proposal to limit jus soli citizenship included appeals to a shared sense of national identity. One convention delegate asserted, for example, that:


“Justin Trudeau would tell you that Canada has no nationality and I think everybody here would disagree with that. I think our nationality runs in our culture, our land, our blood from Juno Beach to Vimy Ridge. We have a culture, we have a nationality, there’s no reason to arbitrarily hand out citizenship to whoever happens to be on vacation here.” (cited in Tasker, 2018: without pagination)

51As noted earlier, civic integration theorists would point out that such commentary is a pointed act of boundary demarcation and a desire for an enforced civic acculturation (Mouritsen et al., 2019: 633). The invocation of blood and ancestry is, in some sense, atypical for such articulations of civic integration, more akin to what Gustavsson describes as conservative nationalism (2019: 705). But it also reflects an expectation that immigrants should be familiar with national histories in the interest of facilitating trust, cultural embedding and the origins of civic values (Mouritsen et al., 2019: 644).

52It should also be noted that the Conservative party resolution to limit jus soli citizenship to the children of citizens and permanent residents only succeeded by a narrow margin and that other racialized Conservative party members spoke out against the motion. Deepak Obhrai, for example, argued that:


“Any person who is born in Canada by law is entitled to be a Canadian; we cannot choose who is going to be a Canadian and who is not going to be a Canadian. This is a fundamental question of equality.” (cited in Tasker, 2018: without pagination)

54Jus soli citizenship is a question of equality and the never-quite-realized promise of inclusion that national membership carries. But even then, equality finds its limit at the borders of the nation-state.


55The contestation around foreign women giving birth in Canada mobilizes babies as the stalking horse for broader articulations of national identity and who is worthy to be a member of the political community. It is not, after all, the mothers who are gaining citizenship, or at least not in the first instance. Yet the argument infers that parents have to earn the right to pass on national citizenship to their children; that their integration must be demonstrated (van Houdt et al., 2011: 419). More menacingly, the “maternity tourism” argument is subtended by assumptions that these mothers are immoral (engaged in misrepresentation and fraud) and, since families are important sites for citizen integration, that this immorality might be passed along to their children. Somehow, babies who are lucky enough to be born in Canada to parents with a more extended residence in the country, or indeed, no residence in the country at all (in cases of children born abroad to Canadian citizens) are seen to have a greater claim to political membership than babies born to mothers who consciously seek out Canadian political membership for the long-term benefit of their families. In truth, we do not know anything about these women. They may be refugees, international students, visitors to Canada who gave birth unexpectedly due to medical complications, or indeed, women intent on ensuring a citizenship option for their newborns and possibly themselves (Gaucher and Larios, 2020). Yet the “maternity tourism” label collapses this breadth of human experience, flattening these varied relationships to the Canadian state — and a very small proportion of births in Canada — into a singular category of undeserved membership. Rather than being understood as selfless mothers, willing to seek out a brighter future for their children, these new mothers are read as selfish takers who abuse Canadian generosity without a thought to benefitting the Canadian common good. In this calculation, there is only us and them, competing for a share of fixed and limited resources. “The possibility of creating bright futures for everyone, both migrant and citizen, is not considered” (Luibhéid, 2013: 161).

56As this analysis demonstrates, the civic integration paradigm offers a number of resources for making sense of a birthright citizenship debate in a multicultural settler society. The preeminence of liberal democratic values as the basis for national-belonging simultaneously opens an integrated citizenship to the similarly inclined, while setting up a hierarchy of beliefs that map onto racialized bodies. Thus, as Schinkel and van Houdt assert, citizenship shifts from “a right to be different to a duty to be similar, i.e. assimilated” (2010: 704). The demonstration of appropriate morality follows from this embrace of liberal-democratic nationalism, both in the thick sense of acculturation and the thin sense of tax-paying and other forms of civic participation. Finally, the entitlement of citizens to the benefits of the neoliberal welfare state is conditioned by identity, attitude and reciprocity. On all counts, both foreign mothers and their Canadian-born children fall short. Or do they? Whether maternity tourism is a real phenomenon or not is, in some sense, beside the point. Rather, the hostility that their “taking” invokes serves as a pointed reminder of what it means to be a Canadian citizen for everyone — newcomers and birthright citizens alike. Maternity tourism does not have to be a real thing. Its value lies in setting the terms of a conversation about proper, integrated citizenship.

I am very grateful to the editors of this thematic dossier for their invitation to contribute and for their thoughtful stewardship of the paper through its several iterations. I would also like to thank two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments.


  • [1]
    OED Online (2019) Nation, n.1, [online] last checked on 23/01/2020. URL:
  • [2]
    Canada (2006) Debates, 13 June, 141 (39), 1st Session, 39th Parliament.
  • [3]
    The only limitation to jus soli citizenship in Canadian law applies to the Canadian born children of foreign diplomats.
  • [4]
    The bulk of media reporting focuses on Chinese women in Vancouver. That said, some reporting has noted other source countries for maternity tourists, replete with racist subtexts. A CTV report from 2016 ( Staff (2016) Is “birth tourism” a problem in Canada? Doctors on frontline of debate, CTV News, [online], last checked on 26/06/2020. URL:, for example, cited a Toronto immigration consultant who described two types of maternity tourism clients. According to him, one group includes “wealthy individuals, often from European countries who want a ‘second passport’ for their children and are able to pay anywhere between $10,000 and $20,000 to deliver a baby in Canada… Others are from poor, crime-ridden countries who want to provide security for their children and hope that their Canadian babies can provide an anchor in the country for the rest of the family” ( Staff, 2016, op. cit.). Rich Europe and a desire for security, especially for post-Brexit Britons, is contrasted with “poor crime ridden countries” (CTVNews Staff, 2016, op. cit.). The insinuation is that women from “poor crime ridden countries” desire to settle in Canada. Their pursuit of citizenship for their children is then juxtaposed with a passport for “security” — and is laden with threat.
  • [5]
    The Canadian Institute for Health Information relies on hospital financial data to derive these figures, since people without health care coverage must pay the hospital bill themselves. Thus, the existing data may include Canadian citizens as well as, visitors, international students and non-Canadians working in Canada under various employment visas. Refugee claimants and permanent residents who have not completed the three months waiting period for health care coverage are not included in these numbers, as they fall into a separate coding category (Griffith, 2018; Gaucher and Larios, 2020).
  • [6]
    For important observations of this phenomenon, see Coulthard (2014) and Dhamoon (2009). Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, for example, infamously declared to a G20 gathering in Pittsburgh in 2009, that Canada had no history of colonization (Ljunggren, 2009).
  • [7]
    Canada (2013) Regulations Amending the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations, 147 (20), [online] last checked on 25/06/2020. URL:
  • [8]
    Canada (1994a) Canadian Citizenship: A Sense of Belonging. Report of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, Ottawa, Queen’s Printer, p. 17.
  • [9]
    By contrast, a petition to reinstate popular hockey personality Don Cherry, after he was fired by Sportsnet for making anti-immigrant comments on air, amassed more than 200,000 signatures in two days (Lau, 2019).
  • [10]
    Conservative Party of Canada (2018) National Policy Committee Convention Package, p. 10, [online] last checked on 25/01/2020. URL:
  • [11]
    It should be noted though, that at least one member of the Liberal caucus disagreed. Joe Peschisolido, whose riding is also in Richmond, British Columbia, presented a petition to Parliament in 2018 opposing maternity tourism. That petition collected approximately 11,000 signatures (Campbell, 2018).
  • [12]
    Canada (1994b) Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, 1st session, 35th Parliament, May 5, 10:31.
  • [13]
    Angus Reid Institute (2019) Birthright Citizenship: Plurality of Canadians see it as good policy, but also say some changes are needed, [online], last checked on 27/06/2020. URL:
  • [14]
  • [15]
    Canadian Press (2018) Feds studying birth tourism after new data shows it is more common than previously reported, Global News, [online], last checked on 25/01/2020. URL:
  • [16]
    Ishaq v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration) 2015, FC 156 (CanLII) 4 FCR 297, at para. 4.
  • [17]
    Ibid., at para. 68.
  • [18]
    Canada (2014) Bill S-7, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Civil Marriage Act and the Criminal Code and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, 2nd Session, 41st Parliament, without pagination.
  • [19]
    Wong states that her grandfather paid the head tax for himself, his wife, as well as their son and daughter-in-law (Wong, 2014: without pagination). This would have been an extraordinary sum of money and a very uncommon circumstance, given the lengths to which the Canadian government went to prevent Asian migration to Canada (Li, 2008: 128).
  • [20]
    For a fascinating discussion of this phenomenon in the German context, see Castañeda (2008).
  • [21]
    Party resolutions are not binding on an elected government. In this case, however, Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer endorsed the resolution as it applied to “birth tourism” (Dickson, 2018).

This paper mobilizes three dimensions of the civic integration paradigm to understand the “maternity tourism” debate — a debate about jus soli birthright citizenship — in the settler-colonial context of Canada. Focusing on liberal democratic values/nationalism/race; morality; and the welfare state, the analysis demonstrates how these dimensions of civic integration draw boundaries between citizens and outsiders. It then examines two contexts in which revelations regarding maternity tourism provoked the Conservative party to consider abolishing citizenship based on birth in the territory. The terms of these debates expose assumptions about appropriate citizenship, providing lessons in belonging for those who seek membership in the Canadian political community and those who already claim it.

  • Canada
  • maternity tourism
  • civic integration
  • jus soli


Lois Harder
Dean of Social Sciences and Professor of Political Science, University of Victoria, PO Box 1700 STN CSC Victoria, BC, Canada V8W 2Y2;
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