A few days ago, a woman went into labour and gave birth on a scheduled airline flight from Amsterdam to Boston [story]. At the time of the birth, the airliner was in Canadian airspace. The flight crew had considered diverting, but the doctors who were assisting (passengers called in to help) said there was no point, because the labour was happening so quickly. When the flight landed in Boston, U.S. immigration admitted the mother as a Ugandan citizen, but the baby as a Canadian citizen. Now the Government of Canada has agreed, and granted Baby Sasha Canadian citizenship [story].
Anyone born on Canadian soil (other than a child of diplomats) is automatically a Canadian citizen, but what about someone born in Canadian airspace?
Here’s the problem: there are no customs requirements for entering Canadian or American airspace, when the final destination is not in that country — the pilot only has to be in contact with an air traffic control unit. Sometimes the controllers aren’t even from the same country: Canadian controllers in Toronto, for example, handle some U.S. airspace in Upper Michigan, while American controllers handle some Canadian airspace around Windsor, ON.
A new business opportunity?
That means that I could take off from the U.S. in a medevac-equipped Cessna Caravan with a woman about to give birth, get permission from American controllers to enter Canadian airspace, then circle over Windsor until the baby is born. Voilà! A new Canadian citizen!
To be honest, that sounds a little far-fetched as an immigration scam or as a grey-marked business model: it would be easier for the pregnant woman just to come into Canada as a tourist and give birth more comfortably on the ground. Besides, I’m hugely pro-immigration — I think Canada’s new immigrant communities are among its greatest strengths, and I welcome Baby Sasha as a fellow citizen.
Still, it’s an interesting precedent that someone who was never vetted by immigration officials can still be considered to be “in Canada”. My concern is that it might lead to both Canada and the U.S. imposing new restrictions on foreign planes using their airspace.
In 10 years, will Canadian G.A. pilots still be able to take the shortcut across Maine to Nova Scotia, for example, just by making a quick radio call to Boston Center and getting a squawk code, or will we have to file paperwork five days in advance and wait for approval from Washington? Does that mean that Canadian law now applies to passengers while they’re in Canadian airspace (not just aviation regulations, but other laws)? Will Saudi laws about alcohol and women’s clothing apply to passengers in an airliner while it’s passing over Saudi Arabia?