Canadian-born Deepan Budlakoti lives a bizarre, almost-Kafkaesque existence. He lives in fear that, any day, government agents could knock on his parents’ door in Ottawa, haul him away and put him on a one-way flight to India.
In government-speak, he is “removal ready.” Except he has no place to go. He was born in Canada.
Yet, the Harper government has been trying to kick him out of the country for more than a year, claiming he was never really Canadian despite his Ontario birth certificate and the passport he once held. India rejects Ottawa’s efforts to dump Mr. Budlakoti – who spent three years in prison for serious crimes – on its doorstep.
“It’s a disgrace,” said Nathalie Des Rosiers, general counsel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, who calls the Harper government’s efforts to banish Mr. Budlakoti “tantamount to cruel and unusual punishment.”
That sort of “abuse of process” should worry all Canadians, she added. It “means that we are all vulnerable to a vindictive re-assessment of our status at any time.”
The case turns on whether Mr. Budlakoti’s parents – who came to Canada as household servants for the Indian High Commission in Ottawa – were covered by the Vienna Convention as diplomats when their son was born on Oct. 19, 1989. If so, he would have Indian, not Canadian, citizenship. The Budlakotis later worked for an Ottawa university professor, became landed immigrants and eventually Canadians.
The Budlakotis believed their child – with his Ontario birth certificate – was Canadian. As a teenager and a minor, Mr. Budlakoti applied for and was granted a passport, so his parents did not apply for citizenship for him.
Mr. Budlakoti, now 23, desperately wants to remain here with his family, all of whom are Canadian. Yet, he is required – under threat of being put back in prison – to do everything he can to help Canadian agents ship him off to India.
“It is like something out of Kafka,” Peter Stieda, Mr. Budlakoti’s lawyer, said in reference to the Prague-born author whose surreal protagonists such as K in The Trial can never determine why the state is persecuting them.
“I’m a Canadian, I was born here,” Mr. Budlakoti said. But he has also been forced, like a stateless person, to apply for a work permit. He was required to hand over his parents’ long-expired Indian passports to Canadian Border Services Agency staff who are trying to convince India that he should be New Delhi’s problem.
Kapil Sharma, the consular officer at India’s embassy, has repeatedly told the CBSA that Mr. Budlakoti is not an Indian citizen. In a March 18 letter, India formally rejected Canada’s demand that it take Mr. Budlakoti.
In what may prove to be a considerable understatement, Jean-Marc McCable, the presiding member at an April 10 removal hearing, said: “This issue will take a considerable period of time to resolve.” He ordered Mr. Budlakoti, who had been been held for four months after completing his three-year prison sentence, released on strict conditions.
Mr. Budlakoti cannot work because he does not have a work permit. No decision on whether to grant him one is expected for months. In the meantime, he cannot enroll in job-training courses because the conditions of his parole require him to remain inside his parents’ home from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. “All the training courses start earlier,” Mr. Budlakoti said. “I can’t really do anything at this point. I can’t work, I can’t take a course, I can’t do anything and I don’t feel good at all about it.”
He admits to making big and criminal mistakes. But attempting to rebuild his life under the constant fear of a knock at the door is grim. So he lives day-to-day, hoping India will not cave in to Canadian pressure. “I don’t think they will be able to kick me out. … I think India won’t agree to co-operate with them.”