Canada's Minister for the Status of Women has denounced a Surrey-based publication directed at local South Asians for advertising the services of a gender selection facility south of the border in Washington State.
Rona Ambrose called on the Indo-Canadian Voice and other publishers to reject such ads, noting that the practice of pre-conception gender selection is illegal in Canada and perpetuates discrimination against girls that is prevalent in some cultural communities.
"At the end of the day, we are fighting sexism here," Ms. Ambrose said in an interview Monday. "We're fighting this perception that girls are not equal to boys."
The minister said there is no doubt that the Washington Centre for Reproductive Medicine, which is able to determine the sex of embryos before implanting them as part of in-vitro fertilization, is intentionally seeking business from parents who want to ensure their next child is a boy.
The facility is advertising in publications such as the Indo-Canadian Voice because that community continues to struggle with the issue of female discrimination, Ms. Ambrose said.
"I find it deplorable that this clinic would be targeting the Indo-Canadian community in British Columbia," she said. "What they're doing is perpetuating a cultural norm that is discriminatory against girls and women."
The minister said certain cultures believe that having girls is a shame and a burden on the family. As a result, they feel that girls are less valuable than boys.
"I am asking the publishers to think about what is the intent of these ads," Ms. Ambrose said. "I want them to think about the fact they are advertising a service that is otherwise illegal in Canada, and they are very intentionally targeting a cultural community that is already struggling with this issue."
According to Pardeep Sahota, who first drew attention to the ad, a bright yellow promotion from the Washington clinic carried the words: "Create the family you want, boy or girl. Pre-conception gender determination."
The reproductive centre's advertisement appeared at the top of the online version of the Indo-Canadian Voice, said Ms. Sahota, community relations officer for the Progressive Intercultural Community Services.
There was no sign of the ad Monday. A representative of the publication, which has a wide following in the South Asian community, could not be reached for comment.
Nor was anyone available for comment from the Washington reproductive facility, located in the Seattle suburb of Bellevue.
The controversy over the ad follows on the heels of a recent study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal that appeared to show that families of Indo-Canadian and South Korean origin in Ontario may be using sex selection to ensure they have boys, rather than girls.
Ms. Ambrose said it is important to speak out to support those in cultural communities who are fighting to end discrimination against women and girls. While many immigrant families come to Canada to escape such discrimination, the issue is still "very much alive and well" in certain cultural communities, the minister said.
"The only way we can get rid of it is through education and awareness," she said.
For the moment, Ms. Ambrose said she does not intend to speak directly with the publishers of the Indo-Canadian Voice about the ad, but might in the future if they continue to run it.
Ms. Sahota said other Indo-Canadian publications have carried promotions for local, private ultrasound clinics that provide vivid, 3-D images of fetuses. It has been suggested that couples who want a boy use these images to determine the gender of a fetus in time to have an abortion, if it's a girl.
"They offer Monday specials to find out if you're having a boy or girl," Ms. Sahota said.
She said among every 50 clients of her social services organization, about one or two confess they have aborted a fetus because it was female. "When you think about it, that's a lot."
Ms. Sahota said she strongly agreed with Ms. Ambrose's call for publishers to refuse to carry ads enticing Indo-Canadian couples to select the gender of their baby. "Knowing that it's illegal in Canada," she said, "it's pretty irresponsible for that paper to carry that ad here."