Ottawa-born man says he has been left stateless by Canada (with video)

Video thumbnail for Fighting for citizenshipAndrew Duffy, Ottawa Citizen, 16 June 2014

Click here to see video.

An Ottawa-born man who has served jail time for gun and drug offences has asked a Federal Court judge to declare him a Canadian citizen and end his debilitating episode of statelessness.

“I have no health care, nothing, even though I’ve lived here all my life,” Deepan Budlakoti, 24, said Monday outside the Federal Court hearing. “I would like the court to give me back my citizenship so that I can go on with my life.”

The federal government, however, considers Budlakoti a foreign national and is trying to deport him for his “serious criminality,” which includes convictions in December 2010 for break and enter, intent to traffic in cocaine and the illegal transfer of a rifle.

But the Indian government doesn’t want him. Last year, it refused Canada’s request to issue the travel documents necessary to enact Budlakoti’s deportation, saying he was not an Indian citizen.

That effectively left Budlakoti a man without a country.

Canadian officials contend he is not a citizen of this country since he was born to Indian parents working at the Indian High Commission in Ottawa in October 1989.

Unlike anyone else born in Canada, children born to foreign diplomatic staff do not automatically gain Canadian citizenship.

That’s where the Budlakoti case enters into a factual dispute that will ultimately have to be sorted out by Federal Court Judge Michael Phelan.

Budlakoti’s lawyer, Yavar Hameed, told court that his client’s parents — both are now Canadian citizens — left the employ of the Indian High Commission four months before their son was born. He provided the court with two affidavits to support that position, including one from the former Indian High Commissioner to Canada.

S.J.S. Chhatwal said that he encouraged his household staff to seek jobs elsewhere in 1989 since he was preparing to retire in September of that year. He testified that Budlakoti’s parents — they had come to Canada in 1985 to cook, clean and garden for the ambassador — left the high commission in June 1989 to work for  a doctor in Nepean.

That physician, Dr. Harsha Dehejia, confirmed in an affidavit that Budlakoti’s parents began to work for him at about that time.

Taken together, Hameed argued, the “best evidence” shows that Budlakoti’s parents had left the high commission by the time of his birth, giving him the automatic right to Canadian citizenship.

That belief, he said, was subsequently reinforced when he was twice issued a Canadian passport, and when his parents successfully applied for Canadian citizenship and no one raised questions about Budlakoti’s status. (Had he known he was not a citizen, Budlakoti could have applied for citizenship before his criminal record rendered him inadmissible.)

Federal lawyer Korinda McLaine stressed that Budlakoti has never held Canadian citizenship. She presented the court with evidence that Budlakoti’s parents did not give up their diplomatic passports until January 1990 — months after Budlakoti was born — and did not leave the high commission’s employ, at least officially, until December 1989.

It means, she argued, that Budlakoti did not qualify for Canadian citizenship since he was born to foreign nationals employed by the Indian high commission.

McLaine also took issue with the characterization of Budlakoti as stateless since there’s no evidence that he has applied for citizenship either in Canada or India.

Justice Phelan reserved his decision as to whether Budlakoti is a Canadian citizen, and if he’s not, whether his resulting statelessness offends Sect. 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Outside court, Budlakoti said his legal limbo makes it impossible to move on from mistakes he made as a young man. He continues to live under strict conditions imposed by immigration officials: he must live with his parents in Nepean and abide by a 9 p.m. curfew.

Budlakoti said he was laid off three months ago as a tow truck driver as soon as his employer became award of his situation. “Everything has been a battle,” he said.

Budlakoti is afraid that if he remains stateless, he could be forced to live under government-imposed conditions for decades. “It’s very stressful: it’s like being indefinitely detained,” he said. “You have all the rights of a citizen and then, by the stroke of a pen somewhere, you’re told that you’re no longer a citizen. There’s no process, no adjudicator, nothing, it’s just taken away.”