Minister of Tourism, Official Languages and La Francophonie Melanie Joly recently announced $1 million in funding each for Pride events in Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto over the next two years. DARRYL DYCK / THE CANADIAN PRESS
Organizers say new federal funding will make this summer’s Pride festivities better than ever — and cement Vancouver’s role as a leading LGBTQ2+ travel destination.
Minister of Tourism, Official Languages and La Francophonie Melanie Joly recently announced $1 million in funding each for Pride events in Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto over the next two years.
“It’s not only important for Vancouver Pride to become an international destination,” said Joly, “it’s a very strong message to everyone across the country that they can be themselves and they can feel safe and proud.“
Andrea Arnot, Pride Vancouver’s executive director, says the money will be used to bring back the Davie Street Party, install a licensed patio space and finance inclusivity training for local businesses.
The money will also support long-term projects like events for black, Indigenous, transgender, two-spirit and queer community members and a full accessibility audit of Pride. She says the organization will also look at hosting a powwow for two-spirit members.
“If people don’t see themselves represented at an event, they’re not going to come,” she said. “…. That helps people feel like they’re a part of and that they want to come and attend our event.”
The grant is part of the Canadian Experiences Fund, a $58.5 million investment to diversify and grow Canada’s tourism sector.
Joly says the investment capitalizes on Canada’s status as a destination for LGBTQ2+ tourism, an industry she says is worth as much as $200 billion USD.
“We’re viewed as a safe country to visit with lots of queer activities going on and safer spaces in our city that travellers might not have in their country of origin,” said Arnot.
Vancouver’s Pride Parade, which celebrated its 40th anniversary last year, was ranked as the 42nd best pride parade in the world by travel website HometoGo.
A 2018 survey by Community Marketing and Insights, a San Francisco-based LGBTQ2+ marketing firm, found Vancouver was the third most-popular destination among gay, lesbian and bisexual men and women in Canada behind Toronto and Montreal.
The company, who partnered with the Canadian Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce and over a dozen other organizations, also found 79 per cent of LGBTQ2+ travellers with no plans to visit the United States were put off by the policies of the Trump administration.
Joly says events like Pride showcase Canada’s diversity and openness — one of many thing she believes will attract more visitors to the country.
“In Canada, you can be you,” said Joly. “And that’s why we can attract the world to come visit us.”
The number of pregnant foreigners coming to B.C. hospitals so their newborns can get automatic Canadian citizenship continues to rise.
Births by non-residents of B.C. increased 24 per cent from the 2016-17 fiscal year to 2017-18, from 676 babies to 837 the following year, according to records obtained through freedom of information requests.
About two per cent of all births in B.C. hospitals are now by non-residents, just as the birthrate among B.C. residents is dropping.
Richmond hospital continues to be at the forefront of the phenomenon, with the total number of babies born to non-residents of B.C. at the hospital rising from 337 in the 2014-15 fiscal year to 474 by 2017-18. Four years ago babies born to non-residents accounted for 15.4 per cent of all births at Richmond Hospital, compared to 22.1 per cent in the last fiscal year.
By comparison, St. Paul’s Hospital and Mount Saint Joseph Hospital — both operated by Providence Health Care — had a combined 132 babies born to non-residents of B.C. in the 2017/18 fiscal year.
While non-resident births account for about two per cent of all babies delivered in B.C., at Richmond Hospital, that proportion is 10 times higher. Indeed, as a New York Times article reported, the hospital is now perceived around the world as a coveted destination for so-called anchor babies, a term to describe children born here to non-residents to gain citizenship.
Health minister Adrian Dix is concerned by the numbers.
“The immigration issues are in federal jurisdiction. This is where concerns must be addressed, not by turning health professionals and skilled health care workers into immigration officers. That is not their role,” said Dix.
Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie agreed with Dix that birth tourism is a federal issue but said there are significant local impacts as well.
“As a city council, we haven’t discussed this but there are individuals who have concerns about the impacts on our already crowded hospital resources,” said Brodie, referring to the aging facilities and to situations when local women are diverted to other hospitals when Richmond Hospital is full.
Brodie said he supports a change to federal laws because he doesn’t believe anchor babies should get automatic citizenship.
“The practice of birth tourism should be curtailed,” he said.
Birth tourism is not illegal and a report by the Institute for Research and Public Policy showed that the numbers are climbing year after year. In 2017, there were at least 3,628 births, mainly in B.C., Alberta, and Ontario, by mothers who live outside Canada.
As Dix has said, the provincial government has taken the approach that it doesn’t endorse the marketing and provision of birth tourism services but at the same time, patients needing urgent care can’t be turned away.
While hospital staff cannot refuse care when women in labour arrive at the front door, Dix said measures have been put in place to help ensure taxpayers aren’t subsidizing the costs of non-resident hospital care.
For instance, late last year the ministry and Vancouver Coastal Health decided to raise fees charged to non-residents when they go to the Richmond Hospital. The cost for a vaginal birth increased to $8,200 from $7,200 and the cost of a caesarean section rose by $300 to $13,300. If their medical care becomes more complicated patients are assessed higher fees.
In 2017, Vancouver Coastal Health billed non-residents of B.C. about $6.22 million for maternity services at Richmond Hospital.
“For maternity cases at Richmond Hospital … the majority of non-residents pay their bills in full,” said Vancouver Coastal Health spokesperson Carrie Stefanson. Approximately 80 per cent of billing to non-residents is recovered, she added.
But sometimes, as in the case of Yan Xia, a birth tourist from China, patients leave Canada after giving birth and leave behind a healthy bill.
Vancouver Coast Health has filed a lawsuit against Xia, who gave birth at Richmond Hospital in 2012. The bill for an extended stay in hospital due to complications totalled $313,000.
The case remains in legal limbo as Xia’s exact whereabouts are unknown and the bill may eventually have to be written off by Vancouver Coast Health.
Stefanson said the Xia case is believed to be VCH’s only maternity debt lawsuit over $100,000.
Richmond Liberal MP Joe Peschisolido has sponsored a petition calling on the federal government to end birth tourism. The petition garnered 11,000 signatures and denounces the practice as “abusive and exploitative” for “debasing” the value of Canadian citizenship. The Peschisolido petition was presented to Parliament last fall.
“The Government of Canada is committed to protecting the public from fraud and unethical consulting practices and protecting the integrity of Canada’s immigration and citizenship programs,” said Ahmed Hussen, minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship in response to the Peschisolido petition.
“To this end, (we) are currently undertaking a comprehensive review, with a view to developing additional information and strengthened measures to address the practices of unscrupulous consultants and exploitation of our programs through misrepresentation.”
Birth tourism will likely be an issue in the upcoming federal election as the Conservatives have vowed to withhold citizenship unless one parent is a Canadian or a permanent resident.
An Air Canada jet takes off against a bank of fog from Vancouver International Airport on Tuesday morning. Late Monday, the federal government updated its advisory for travellers to China ‘due to the risk of arbitrary enforcement of local laws.’ Nick Procaylo / PNG
The death sentence given to Canadian drug trafficker Robert Schellenberg by a Chinese court has spooked Canadian tourists planning to visit the People’s Republic.
“Everyone is feeling it,” said Canadian travel agent Julius Yan, president of Laurus Travel. “The last couple of days, and especially this morning, we have been getting calls from people who are concerned and about half want to cancel their tour to China.”
Late Monday, Canada updated its advisory for travellers to China “due to the risk of arbitrary enforcement of local laws.” The Chinese foreign ministry then warned its own citizens that they could be “arbitrarily detained at the request of a third nation” if they visit Canada.
Tensions between Canada and China have been rising since Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Vancouver for extradition to the United States after allegedly violating American trade sanctions against Iran.
Less than a week later, two Canadians — former diplomat Michael Kovrig and non-profit worker Michael Spavor — were arrested in China in apparent retribution.
Canadians are urged to exercise a high degree of caution when travelling to China, said Global Affairs spokesman Guillaume Berube.
Travellers may experience scrutiny by local officials and police while in China and the Chinese Embassy in Canada announced late in December that as of Jan. 1 adult travellers to China must be fingerprinted before a visa will be issued.
“Chinese authorities may define certain behaviours and activities as ‘endangering national security’ that would not be considered as such in Canada,” warns Global Affairs. You may be detained for up to six months before being formally arrested in security matters.
Amid the latest diplomatic salvos over the Schelleberg case, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying urged Canada to remind its citizens “to never come to China to commit serious offences such as smuggling or trafficking drugs.”
The death sentence to Schellenberg, who was already serving a 15-year sentence for his crimes in China, appears to be the last straw for wary travellers.
“Escalating tension between Canada and China is having a very negative effect on businesses like ours,” said Yan. “Some Canadians booked on our tours this year have called and emailed to express their concerns and we want to alleviate their anxiety.”
While Canadians are postponing and cancelling their trips, bookings from American customers are on the rise at Laurus Travel.
“In the U.S. it seems to be business as usual,” said Yan, who maintains that China is a safe vacation destination for average Canadians.
Schellenberg is far from average. He was jailed in B.C. for possession for the purpose of drug trafficking in 2012 after being found with heroin and cocaine. He has impaired driving and drug-related convictions dating back to 2003.
Tensions could put a damper on travel to China for the Lunar New Year, which starts in three weeks.
“Even though I have family in China, as a Canadian, I won’t be going there anytime soon,” said Clifford Marr, a public relations specialist. “I have also been warning people not to go to China or transit through China to other Asian countries like the Philippines.”
B.C.’s Minister of State for Trade George Chow has warned that a planned trade mission to Asia by B.C. officials in March could be postponed if relations between the two nations do not improve.
The Office of the Premier said that no firm decisions have been made about the trip.
China’s travel warning to its citizens puts at risk about $1.6 billion that 682,000 tourists from China spend in Canada each year.
More than 290,000 residents of mainland China visit Vancouver each year, according to Statistics Canada. Chinese tourists spend an average of $2,400 each per trip.
For those brave enough to visit China in uncertain times, bargains can be had.
UTO Vacation on Tuesday morning offered a nine-night China vacation package including return flights from Vancouver, Montreal or Toronto to Shanghai for $599, according to Travelzoo.
BBG Constructive & Security Installation Consultants is a multi-disciplinary property and construction consultancy. Working with businesses on built-environment projects, we are client-focused with the recognised experience, knowledge base, expertise and track record to tackle projects irrespective of complexity from a position of strength.