Richmond homes linked to passport babies 0
Three townhouses in this complex at 8580 Cook Road in Richmond, B.C., are believed to serve as 'pregnancy centres' for women from China looking to give birth in Canada. (CARMINE MARINELLI, 24 HOURS)
Three townhouses in Richmond, B.C., are being used to house foreign nationals pregnant with "passport babies," and are among numerous local housing destinations for birth tourists, a 24 hours investigation has uncovered.
Advertised online in Chinese as the Pan Pan Pregnancy Centre, the Cook Road residences offer a haven to women from the one-child-policy country. But they may be birth tourists in the eyes of the federal government, which has vowed to crack down on those exploiting a long-known loophole to citizenship that gives a passport to anyone born in Canada.
Expectant and new mothers are offered a room, cleaning, meals, child care, transportation and other support services. The service costs from $55 to $70 per day depending on the size of the room, and there is no limit on the length of stay.
Under city bylaws, the property owner is allowed to operate as a boarding and lodging facility without a licence, with up to two guests per unit. City officials say city bylaws don't forbid a boarding house for pregnant women.
Land title documents show the properties are owned by Fen Fei Sun, described as an accountant. A business licence is also attached to the property under SUNC CA Consulting Services, described as offering cost consulting, bookkeeping and project management. Fen Fei Sun could not be reached for comment.
Posing as local Chinese with relatives in China interested in coming to the centre, a reporter spoke to Susan, who described herself as the owner. She insisted the centre doesn't do anything illegal, but simply operates like a bed and breakfast for new and expectant moms. Her modest account is countered by a Chinese publication's report in which she bragged that the birth tourism industry is booming.
"Most women here are local," Susan, who emigrated from China over a decade ago, said through a Mandarin-speaking translator. "Currently it's very difficult to get a visa to come to Canada. Local people come after giving birth for the post-partum period."
In spite of Susan's assertions she has only three or four guests, half a dozen expectant and new mothers were observed coming and going from their temporary home over a two-hour period on a recent weekday afternoon. During the meeting with Susan, one pregnant mother passed by on her way to her room and said she was expecting in May.
When confronted later about the services she's offering foreign nationals, Susan again insisted she doesn't counsel women on how to get into the country - she only takes care of them once they're here.
"Some of them may have all-in-one services," she said in an interview. "We don't do all-in-one services."
Asked what she thinks about the birth tourism industry, Susan replied: "I never think about these . I only promise myself to do the legal thing. That's all. Other people are not my business. I won't give comments."
Another undercover reporter, working for Hong Kong's Apple Daily newspaper, reported the centre recently had seven occupied guest rooms. The newspaper said that wealthy clients come predominantly from Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin, and some are wives of high-ranking government officials.
The newspaper reported many are seeking to flout China's one-child policy by having a second child abroad, and are anticipating the benefits of Canadian citizenship, including having the child eventually sponsor the family to Canada if they decide to leave China.
"I've seen reports in the Chinese language media about this and the phenomenon of crooked immigration agents coaching women in China for a fee on how to come to Canada and engage in what some people call birth tourism. It does concern me a great deal," Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said when asked about the newspaper's investigation.
He called the practice an abuse of the spirit of Canada's citizenship laws.
"This is a form of immigration fraud," added Kenney, who proposes closing the loopholes that allow instant citizenship to babies born here to foreign mothers.
"(Citizenship laws are) are not for someone who happened to be born here because their mom was coached . to have a child in Canada and use that child for the benefit of future citizenship."
Some critics counter the proposed policy change will come at the expense of the privacy and convenience of all Canadians.
"There are a couple of hundred passport babies born annually in Canada out of our 200 million visits per year," said immigration lawyer Richard Kurland.
"To clamp down on those several hundred, the government is going to require Canadians to re-apply for their Canadian citizenship to get a passport. You'll have to fork over your family tree to the Big Brother government computer to establish the immigration status of a parent at the time of your birth. That won't do away with a couple of hundred passport babies a year, but it will do away with the privacy of 33 million Canadians."
The Pan Pan Pregnancy Centre is not the only alleged home for passport babies in Metro Vancouver - a number of similar businesses are listed openly on Chinese online directories, offering a clean-living environment, specialized maternal care, meals and shuttle services. One has contact phone numbers in both Vancouver and Mainland China.
According to Apple Daily, expectant Chinese moms are being coached by agents and friends in China to misrepresent their real reason for coming here when questioned by customs officials, so that they are not refused entry. They are told to arrive early in their pregnancies, to wear heavy jackets and not carry anything suggesting they are expecting a baby.