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Canadian government denies citizenship to Ottawa-born man

Deepan Budlakoti finds himself in bureaucratic limbo

In May 2010, Deepan Budlakoti officially became stateless. Although he was born in Canada and held a Canadian passport, the government claimed that the passport had been issued in error, and that he had never been a Canadian citizen to begin with.

Budlakoti’s immigration troubles began when he was in prison for five months in late 2009 and was put into solitary confinement.

“I had an altercation with a guard, I was thrown in the hole, and a guard came up to me and asked me, while I was in the hole, if I was a citizen or not,” he said.

After providing his birth certificate and passport as proof of his Canadian citizenship, Budlakoti was informed that he was nonetheless not a citizen.

The government’s claim was based on the sole exception to the act granting Canadian citizenship to babies born on Canadian soil. The exception denies automatic citizenship to children born in Canada to diplomats without Canadian status. Although Budlakoti’s parents did work for the Indian High Commissioner in 1989, according the family diplomatic status in Canada, they stopped work there several months before Budlakoti’s birth.

After a series of hearings and investigations by the Canadian government, he was served with a deportation order in 2011 while serving a second prison sentence in Ottawa.

Doubly punished

The term “double punishment” is used to describe the phenomenon of non-citizens being deported in addition to serving time in prison for a crime.

Double punishment is enshrined in a provision of the Immigrant and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA), which states that a “foreign national” can be deemed inadmissible on the grounds of “criminality” or “serious criminality” if they are convicted of a crime in Canada landing them with a sentence of over six months in prison.

“I had an altercation with a guard, I was thrown in the hole, and a guard came up to me and asked me, while I was in the hole, if I was a citizen or not.”

“[Double punishment] is racist, because it’s highly racialized in terms of who gets criminalized and how people get criminalized. There are certain communities that are disproportionately affected by double punishment, and that happens to completely coincide and completely correlate with those communities that are racially profiled,” said Jaggi Singh, No One Is Illegal activist, during a panel on double punishment co-hosted by CKUT and The Daily.

A stateless man

A person is considered stateless when, as in the case of Budlakoti, they no longer have citizenship in any nation of the world. The implications of statelessness are far-reaching and complex; when a person has no official citizenship they have no status where they are, but also no papers to cross any borders and go elsewhere.

The 1961 United Nations (UN) Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness entered into force in 1975. The convention pronounced it “desirable to reduce statelessness by international agreement.”

It is unclear how many people in Canada are currently stateless. Many of them are likely living in detention centres, something mandated by Canadian law if they are judged to be a flight risk or a risk to society, or if their identity is in question according to the IRPA. (This is also the policy for refugee claimants and other people without status in Canada.)

Budlakoti himself was detained for several months at the Toronto West Detention Centre, but was released after Peter Stieda, his lawyer, successfully made the case that he did not fulfill the conditions for detention under the IRPA.

According to a document obtained by The Daily, Budlakoti found himself under many restrictions as a condition for his release, including a curfew and an order to “keep the peace and be on good behaviour.” The restrictions were later lightened, but only slightly. He also found himself bound by his newfound statelessness and lack of Canadian status: everything became a struggle.

“I had to apply for a work permit, I had to apply to get my [driver’s] license back, I had to apply for a social insurance card. Everything was a challenge,” he said at a talk on his case in Montreal on January 21.

Justice for Deepan

“It doesn’t matter what I think, but Deepan will stay. There’s no way they can let [him be deported], there would be an uproar,” offered Singh during the panel.

Budlakoti and his supporters haven’t always been so sure. In December 2012, just before he was released from prison, the Ottawa Citizen reported that Budlakoti was “resigned to the fact that his life outside prison will begin in India.”

The situation took a turn once he found out through an access to information request that India was refusing to accord him status and wouldn’t accept him if the Canadian government attempted to deport him there.

Now, Budlakoti has thrown himself entirely into a campaign for his case and against his deportation. The Justice for Deepan campaign has social media support, and several high-profile human rights associations have written letters of support for the campaign, including Amnesty International and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

“[Double punishment] is racist, because it’s highly racialized in terms of who gets criminalized and how people get criminalized.”

As part of his campaign, Budlakoti is currently on a speaking tour through several cities in Canada. When he passed through Montreal on January 21 and 22, he paid a visit to Justin Trudeau’s office with supporters from Solidarity Across Borders (SAB).

According to Budlakoti and SAB, Trudeau had pledged his support to Budlakoti’s case in 2011. Trudeau, who was elected as the leader of the Liberal party in April 2013, now remains silent on Budlakoti’s case. In response to Budlakoti’s campaign’s repeated requests that Trudeau take a stand, his assistant recently wrote, “I am very sorry to have to inform you that unfortunately Mr. Trudeau will not be able to intervene in this file.”

When Budlakoti and his support team arrived at Trudeau’s Montreal riding on January 22, they were met by Max Roy, the office manager. Once they had passed over a prepared letter and made prepared statements on Budlakoti’s situation, they found that Roy wasn’t willing to set up an appointment with Trudeau, the real goal of their visit. When the group insisted, Roy escorted them out of the office, punctuated by different permutations of a request to “please leave the office now.” They left empty-handed.

“Some [politicians] have been [supportive], some neutral, and some don’t respond. Thomas Mulcair’s [the leader of the New Democratic Party] office, in general, [has been supportive],” said Budlakoti, standing outside Trudeau’s office’s glass double-doors after the visit.

Mary Foster, an activist with SAB, jumped in. “But [Mulcair] has refused to take a public position […] when we’ve asked him to speak out actually where it counts on the public scene, it’s been zero,” she said, adding, “The hypocrisy of these people…”