Imagine this – it’s midnight, you’re with your partner… and suddenly that baby you’ve been waiting nine months for announces it’s coming!
The two of you rush to the hospital, only to be told after a long wait that the maternity ward is full and you’ll have to go elsewhere.
How frustrated would you be to later learn the ward was likely full because of visitors to the country?
That’s what happened to Richard Belleza and his wife, and they’re worried it could happen again.
LISTEN: Richmond resident Richard Belleza speaks out about birth tourism
Recent stats show that one in six births in Richmond is to a foreign national, sparking fears that so-called “birth tourism,” people having their children in Canada with the goal of them receiving citizenship, is bumping locals out of the delivery room.
It’s caused enough concern that someone recently launched an e-petition calling for action to end the practice, which quickly racked up thousands of signatures.
After he and his wife’s 2014 experience, Belleza says he’s not surprised.
The pair rushed to the hospital when her water broke, only to be shuffled all the way to the North Shore.
“You sit there for six hours and they tell you we don’t have a bed for you, you guys need to go drive to Lions Gate hospital, that’s the only bed that’s available.”
“When you just look at the numbers, there’s 16 beds in the Richmond maternity ward, and on average because one in six births are foreign nationals, and there’s 15 beds then at any given time when the maternity ward is full then two to three out of those beds are being occupied by a foreign national. So I can make the assumption that if we got bumped that it was a good chance it’s because it was full and it was occupied by foreign nationals.”
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He says he doesn’t think there’s any kind of a conspiracy to prioritize non-citizens. But he says with foreign births earning hospitals two to three times what someone on MSP brings in, he’s not surprised they’re welcomed.
But Balleza says while “birth tourism” might be helping BC hospitals balance the books…
“My bottom line is that it can’t come at the expense of people that need to use the system, that pay and live and work here locally.”
With the Ballezas expecting their second child this fall, he says he’s now worried it could happen again, and says he wants to see protections to guarantee locals have access to their own hospitals.
“They’re playing within a very tightly knit and restricted policies and resources, they don’t have enough to go around. And ultimately the government needs to allocate those resources and make sure there’s enough rooms and availability and staffing to meet the needs of all the citizens here.”