A Canadian-born criminal who served his sentence claims the Conservative government has trampled his constitutional rights by trying to render him stateless and force him out of the country.
Deepan Budlakoti was born in Ontario and once issued a Canadian passport, but is now deemed a non-citizen by the government, which is trying to expel him to India. In the latest bizarre twist, Mr. Budlakoti wants a federal judge to rule that he is “a Canadian citizen” and stop the efforts of federal ministers to render him “stateless, contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
“It’s insane that the Harper government is taking this position against a Canadian-born man who has lived his entire life here,” said Yavar Hameed, the attorney representing Mr. Budlakoti, 23. The government must respond to the suit by next week.
“They’re picking on me because I’m not white,” said Mr. Budlakoti. “Since I’m brown they made the assumption that ‘this guy might not be a citizen.’ ” Mr. Budlakoti spent two years in prison after convictions for weapons and drug offences. His sentence ended in December, 2012. While he was in prison, citizenship officials began an attempt to remove him permanently to India and kept him in detention for months after his sentence was completed.
“They’re treating me like a second-class citizen, they’ve taken everything from me, my passport, my ability to work. I had to go to federal court just to get a work permit,” said Mr. Budlakoti, in an interview. He’s still awaiting a new social insurance number after Ottawa voided his original.
Ottawa claims Mr. Budlakoti is a citizen of India, was never a Canadian and it makes no difference that he has an Ontario birth certificate and was issued a Canadian passport.
But the government has also been keeping evidence from Mr. Budlakoti. Under a Privacy Act request, Mr. Budlakoti’s lawyers have uncovered previously undisclosed documents that the Canadian government knew, since last March, of India’s formal position that Mr. Budlakoti was not an Indian citizen.
The government has “intentionally and in bad faith concealed information from [Mr. Budlakoti] regarding his case and has misled the Canadian public about [his] status in Canada while conspiring with the Minister of Public Safety to remove [Mr. Budlakoti] from Canada,” claims the federal court filing which seeks a declaration that Mr. Budlakoti “is a Canadian citizen.”
The government has yet to respond.
Ottawa contends that when Mr. Budlakoti was born in October, 1989, his parents were servants to the then Indian high commissioner in Ottawa and thus their child was covered by diplomatic immunity and not entitled to Canadian citizenship. Both parents eventually applied for and were granted Canadian citizenship but omitted Deepan from the application because – they say – they were told by Canadian officials he was already Canadian.
Meanwhile, the then Indian high commissioner, in a letter made public last month, has confirmed the Budlakotis were no longer working for him at the time of Deepan’s birth.
India has told Canada it doesn’t regard Mr. Budlakoti as a citizen and won’t issue him a passport or permit his entry into the country.
Mr. Hameed says the government’s track record is “showing a racial bias” in the way it handles convicted criminals. While some convicted felons, like Conrad Black and Brenda Martin, get the red-carpet treatment, others like Mr. Budlakoti are deemed undesirable and every effort is made to oust them, Mr. Hameed said. For instance, Mr. Black, the former newspaper magnate, was allowed to return to Canada from a U.S. prison in 2012 despite renouncing his citizenship a decade earlier so he could take a British noble title. In 2008, the government even chartered – at a cost of more than $80,000 – a private jet to fly Ms. Martin home from a Mexican prison less than a month after she was sentenced to five years for fraud. She was released in less than two weeks later.
A very different approach was taken with Mr. Budlakoti. “They’re using me as a scapegoat, the Harper government is trying to show it can deport people faster and if they can deport me it will set a precedent and they’ll be able to deport others,” he said.