After their two sons were born in Canada, the spies moved to Europe, then to the U.S. where they were arrested. FBI agents are shown outside the Cambridge, Mass., home of Donald Heathfield and Tracey Foley in 2010. (Richard Stanley/Associated Press)

Birth tourism, spies, Canadian citizenship


Difficult case puts Liberals rather confusingly on the same side as Conservatives

The concept is called “jus soli”, a Latin term which means that anyone born in a country automatically becomes a citizen of that country.

Canada is one of only 34 countries in the world that automatically confers citizenship in this way.

Canada adopted the policy in 1947 with its first Immigration Act, at a time when international travel was not as easy, fast, or inexpensive as now.

In recent years this has led to a practice known as “birth tourism”, where pregnant women from abroad, come in to a country to have their babies so that they automatically become citizens.

The issue of birth tourism is back once again in Canada. This photo of a Chinese baby holding a Canadian passport was posted by Baoma Inn, of Richmond B.C., one of several so-called birth houses or maternity hotels designed to enable women to have their babies here while ostensibly coming as tourists (via CBC)

At their recent convention, the opposition Conservative Party of Canada adopted a resolution saying the practice of jus soli should be ended as there are people “taking advantage” of Canada.

The New Democratic Party, traditionally in third place condemned the resolution in a tweet by its leader, Jagmeet Singh which said in part, “The NDP unequivocally condemns the division & hate being peddled by the CPC”.

 Ruling Liberals criticise resolution but fight jus soli in court

The ruling Liberal party also criticised the resolution. Gerald Butts, principle secretary to the Prime Minister, has labelled this resolution as “a deeply wrong and disturbing idea”.

A spokesman for the  Liberal Immigration Minister also said it’s a “shame to see the Conservatives going back down the path established by the Harper (former Conservative) government, which seeks to strip away the citizenship of people who have only ever known Canada as a home.”

Yet for all that, the federal Liberals are fighting against just such a birthright case in court.

It’s not entirely a clear cut similarity however as the case involved the Canadian-born children of two Russian spies.

The two brothers, children of spies, shown in a photo in Bangkok. They are fighting to keep their Canadian citizenship. (family photo)

The two boys, Alexander and Timothy, now young men aged 24 and 28, were born in Toronto to Donald Heathfield and Tracey Ann Foley.

The parents were arrested in the U.S. eight years ago and their actual identities revealed as Andrey Bezrukov and Elena Vavilova and charged with conspiring to act as secret agents for Russia.

They were sent to Russia in a prisoner exchange.

The two boys have been fighting to maintain their Canadian citizenship.

In 2014, Canada later denied Alexander, who had finished school in Russia, a passport saying his parents were employees of a foreign government at the time of his birth. The children of diplomats and embassy staff serving in Canada get the citizenship of their parent’s country.

The case went to court in 2017 where it was ruled that the parents (spies) did not have diplomatic status while in Canada and so jus soli applies, and Alexander was given a Canadian passport as a citizen.  The same basic principle applies to his brother.

Alex Vavilov has been back in Canada since April and has a Canadian passport while the
federal government appeals a lower court ruling that he is a Canadian citizen. The Supreme Court decides will hear his case in December. Vavilov, 23, was raised in Canada; his parents were elite KGB agents who were returned to Russia as part of a spy swap. (John Badcock/CBC)

The Liberal government is now fighting jus soli in court saying the parents, although working undercover, were in fact working for a foreign government as employees.

The case has proceeded to the Supreme Court where it will be heard in December.

U.S and Canada different stands on birth tourism

As for birth tourism, almost 700 such babies were born in Canada in 2012, while in 2016 this was down to 313 babies born to non-Canadian mothers. In British Columbia alone, a newspaper investigation found the provincial government was aware of some 26 so-called birth houses or maternity hotels for foreigners.

The U.S is another country which has accepted the concept of jus soli, but is more proactive on enforcing visa rules.

In January of this year for example U.S. federal agents raided some 20 so-called maternity hotels in California, saying it is visa fraud to apply for a tourist visa for the purpose of having a U.S born child.

additional information – sources

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2 comments on “Birth tourism, spies, Canadian citizenship
  1. Peter Ashcroft says:

    The real question is whether to terminate ‘jus sole’ for future births only.

    • Marion Vermeersch says:

      perhaps I should not be commenting, because my family have had citizenship since it was stripped 14 years ago. My brother and I came with our War Bride mother in 1946 to join my father, discharged back home to Ontario from service with the Royal Canadian Artillery throughout WWII (he had originally come as a Home Child from Scotland in 1925 to work on farms, only went back to serve 1939-45). My brother is a veteran of the Canadian Navy and, later a police force.
      There were thousands like us who lost citizenship, many military associated families, so I know only too well that the government can and will strip citizenship for ridiculous reasons.
      Our adult children are all born in Canada so have citizenship by birth: they are all good, hardworking Canadian citizens who have lived here all their lives, as have our grandchildren. But all of a sudden the government said we should never have been given citizenship in 1946 and we had been acting illegally for all those decades. Therefore, if they are right, I was not a Canadian citizen when my children were born.

      My children did not choose to be born in Canada, nor to two born-abroad parents. They were not responsible for our choice in having them here, any more than my brother and I could help being born in Wartime Britain. I am still told that my father would not have qualified for Canadian citizenship, he was a “born-abroad” so we did not have that required “Canadian Parent”.
      If that Conservative motion ever gets to be law, I would expect my children, and perhaps grandchildren, to face similar loss of citizenship. Canada must have thousands, if not millions of people with no Canadian born parent, so we won;t have many citizens left!