Joseph Breen, National Post, 15 June 2014
Nearly 25 years after he was born in Ottawa, a convicted drug and gun dealer named Deepan Budlakoti will be in Federal Court Monday, asking for a declaration he is Canadian, in a uniquely complicated case that will test the Conservative government’s hard-line approach to protecting the value of Canadian citizenship.
At issue is the status of his parents, who are now citizens, but came to Canada as domestic staff of the High Commissioner of India. The children of foreign diplomatic staff are the only exception to the rule that anyone born in Canada is a Canadian citizen. There is dispute over when their employment ended — either a few months before Deepan’s birth, or a few months after.
Raised in Ottawa, for a time as a ward of the state, Mr. Budlakoti has twice been issued a Canadian passport declaring him a Canadian, and the question of his citizenship might never have arisen, except for his criminal convictions for break and enter, illegal transfer of a hunting rifle and intent to traffic in cocaine.
See video of support rally for Deepan here.
That triggered an examination of his file, after which the government took the position his parents were diplomatic staff when he was born, his passports were issued in error, and Mr. Budlakoti — who has now served his sentence and parole — is not Canadian. As a result, he was found criminally inadmissible to Canada, and faced a deportation order to India, which refused to accept him.
“He is effectively stateless, and whether he was rendered stateless by Canada, or whether he’s just stateless by virtue of some mishap or loophole or something, the fact is he is stateless, and Canada has added insult to injury by, through the course of his life, telling him ‘No, you’re not stateless. You’re a Canadian,’” said his lawyer, Yavar Hameed. To deny he is Canadian is to “exile him into oblivion.”
As his application to Federal Court says, he is not at liberty to travel within Canada or abroad, and “finds himself in a state of indefinite detention. … As a stateless person, [Mr. Budlakoti] lives in a highly precarious situation; he is in legal limbo, at the mercy of the [government of Canada].”
Whether he’s just stateless by virtue of some mishap or loophole or something, the fact is he is stateless, and Canada has added insult to injury
“This convicted criminal has never been a Canadian citizen. He should not have chosen a life of crime if he did not want to be deported from Canada,” said Alexis Pavlich, spokesperson for Chris Alexander, the Citizenship and Immigration Minister.
“Mr. Budlakoti is being removed from Canada for ‘serious criminality.’ He served significant jail time [three years] for trafficking both weapons and drugs. Even though Mr. Budlakoti was born in Canada, he is not a citizen due to the 1977 Citizenship Act which amended the rule to exclude all children of foreign-born diplomats born in Canada from Canadian citizenship unless one of the parents was a Canadian citizen or permanent resident. No application for citizenship has ever been made by him or on his behalf.”
Canada is a signatory to a 1961 international convention that imposes a duty to reduce statelessness.
Asking a court to declare Mr. Budlakoti’s citizenship “is an exceptional remedy because this is an exceptional case,” Mr. Hameed said. “It’s exceptional because Deepan was born in Canada, lived his entire life in Canada, and was assured on multiple occasions by the government of Canada that he was a Canadian citizen. … If there was an issue or a problem, the onus was clearly on the Canadian government to have done its due diligence, to determine whether or not there’s some exception to the rule or whether they have their records straight.”
To argue today, more than two decades later, that Canada made a mistake by issuing the passports is “very prejudicial and unfair,” said Mr. Hameed. “Now, with a finding of criminal inadmissibility, it basically bars him from taking the normal steps that he would have taken, or could have taken, to become a citizen earlier on.”
In an interview, Mr. Budlakoti described the case as a bureaucratic foul-up and a violation of international law, but he said he is “100%” confident he will not be deported.
“They can’t deport me to a country I’ve never been to. I’m stateless in Canada,” said Mr. Budlakoti. “If I lose, the government has to give me some kind of status. I can’t be stateless in Canada. That’s what it comes down to. Either give me back my citizenship, or rectify the fact that I’m stateless in Canada, caused by the government. There’s no possible way to be deported.”
He said he thinks his case is a politically motivated “tester case to see what they can pull off.”
Mr. Hameed said it is consistent with the government’s approach to citizenship as a “tenuous thing” that can be taken away from undeserving people.
His team managed to track down the former High Commissioner in India, who swore an affidavit backing Mr. Budlakoti’s position — that his parents were domestic staff of the High Commissioner until June 1989, after which they began working for an Ottawa doctor, Harsha Dehejia, in Nepean.
Deepan was born in October 1989, and his statement of birth lists the home of Mr. Dehejia. The government of Canada said it has a diplomatic note from India declaring that his parents’ employment ended in December 1989, which it only revealed after Mr. Budlakoti made this application to Federal Court.