CBC Ombudsperson: Investigate documentary on “birth tourism”

The following is a letter sent to CBC Ombudsperson. You can send a complaint also through: https://cbc.radio-canada.ca/en/ombudsman/contact

CBC 5th Estate Documentary – Passport babies: The growing shadow industry of birth tourism is inaccurate, unfair, imbalanced and puts migrants at risk

We are writing to you regarding the recent CBC 5th Estate’s documentary titled Passport babies: The growing shadow industry of birth tourism broadcast on January 5, 2020, and accompanying CBC web articles. This letter is co-signed by 30 immigrant rights, labour, research and indigenous rights organizations. 

The documentary and the accompanying articles fail to meet even the most minimal standards for fairness and accuracy in reporting. The program provides a biased version of events, and does not include any immigration rights expert voices. In the current climate of rising xenophobia and racism, this kind of misinformation only increases the  risk of violence and hatred toward migrants and their families.

(1) Accuracy

The program repeatedly reiterates that there are 5,000 non-resident births per year in Canada, and directly links that number to births by tourists. This number has only been cited in one report by Policy Options from November 22, 2018. However, in that study, the report author Mr. Griffith highlights that the 5,000 figure includes all migrants in Canada that do not have health coverage – not just tourists. This fact is not mentioned in the 5th Estate’s report at all. Over 780,000 temporary permits were issued during the period of Mr. Griffith’s study. In addition, there are an estimated  500,000 undocumented residents in Canada. Births by any migrants who did not have medical coverage are counted in the 5,000 figure. Thus, births by tourists are likely dramatically lower than what 5th Estate states them to be.

(2) Fairness

The 5th Estate episode, as well as the accompanying CBC piece titled ‘All about the money’: How women travelling to Canada to give birth could strain the health-care system, posit that lack of fee payment by tourist mothers is hurting the integrity of the healthcare system. The statistics provided, as outlined above, are not limited to tourists but include all non-payment of health fees by migrants. Many migrants are excluded from health coverage because of their temporary permits. Many are unable to pay up front the high fees necessary for life-saving care, putting their lives at risk. In July of 2019, the United Nations urged Canada to change legislation to ensure access to healthcare to all residents. This is critical context about the systemic denial of healthcare to migrants which, when left out, negatively biases viewers towards the reality of healthcare access for migrants. 

The show highlights that hospitals and doctors are collecting high fees from patients – $18 million invoiced, and only $2 million not paid. Considering non-payment of fees here includes all migrants, it is important to clarify that 42.9% of non-permanent residents in Canada are low-income, and thus are unable to afford such high fees. And yet the CBC reports the numbers as if they are simply rich tourists accessing services and refusing to pay. 

At the same time, front line nurses in the show itself point out how increased profit by hospitals is not resulting in increased staffing. But the production and editing of the show, including corresponding questions to hospital authorities and government officials, lays the blame for the strains on the health care system on fee non-payment by migrants, instead of inadequate staffing support and low government funding for front line workers, particularly nurses. 

(3) Balance

The show features several voices, including US President Donald Trump and Canadian parliamentarians, all speaking out against “birth tourism”. No immigration rights organizations, experts or lawyers are featured that could provide nuance or alternative interpretations of the statistics cited, , or shed light on the impact that high healthcare fees have on migrants, or to outline policy alternatives  developed by migration policy experts, for example, on the regulation of international recruiters – a subject of extensive policy and legislative work by immigrant rights organizations. 

(4) Impact on migrants

Police-reported hate crimes in Canada have been surging, a fact highlighted in the accompanying 5th Estate documentary aired on the same date. This rise in hate crimes is a direct result of growing anti-immigrant sentiment, analyses and rhetoric. In such an environment, producing inaccurate, unfair, and unbalanced media reports serves only to fan these flames of xenophobia and racism by redirecting concerns about lack of funding for healthcare towards immigrants.  This is dog-whistle politics, and it has a direct and harmful effect on hundreds of thousands individuals and families, and biases policy makers. 

We urge you to investigate the documentary, and accompanying web-stories closely, and to issue retractions and clarifications, and to ensure such inaccurate and biased reports on immigration policy are not aired in the future. 

On behalf of:

  1. Migrant Workers Alliance for Change*
  2. OCASI-Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants
  3. Idle No More
  4. Association for the Rights of Household and Farm Workers (ADDPD-ARHW)
  5. Butterfly (Asian and Migrant Sex Workers Support Network
  6. BC Health Coalition
  7. Caregiver Connections Education and Support Organization
  8. Caring for Social Justice collective
  9. Chinese Canadian National Council Toronto Chapter
  10. Collaborative Network to End Exploitation
  11. CUPE 1571
  12. Durham Region Labour Council 
  13. Faraday Law
  14. Idle No More Ontario
  15. Institut universitaire SHERPA: migration, diversité, santé
  16. Migrant Worker Solidarity Network, Manitoba
  17. Migrant Workers Centre – BC
  18. Migrante Alberta
  19. Migrante BC
  20. Montréal Antifasciste
  21. No One is Illegal – Halifax: K’jipuktuk
  22. No One Is Illegal Toronto
  23. No One Is Illegal – Fredericton
  24. Northumberland Labour Council
  25. Ontario Coalition Against Poverty
  26. Sanctuary Health
  27. Toronto Seed Library
  28. Unifor Local 222
  29. Vancouver Committee for Domestic Workers and Caregivers Rights (CDWCR)
  30. Workers Action Centre

* The Migrant Workers Alliance for Change (MWAC) includes individuals as well as Asian Community Aids Services, Butterfly (Asian and Migrant Sex Workers Support), Caregiver Connections Education and Support Organization, Caregivers Action Centre, Chinese Canadian National Council – Toronto, Durham Region Migrant Solidarity Network, FCJ Refugee House, GABRIELA Ontario, IAVGO Community Legal Clinic, Income Security Advocacy Centre, Migrante Ontario, No One Is Illegal – Toronto, Northumberland Community Legal Centre, OCASI – Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants, OHIP For All, PCLS Community Legal Clinic, SALCO Community Legal Clinic, Students Against Migrant Exploitation, UFCW, UNIFOR, Workers’ Action Centre and Workers United.