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Policy decried as man who had Canadian passport in error faces deportation after jail

Deepan Budlakoti

Family photo provided to the online newspaper www.southasiamail.com

Deepan Budlakoti has an Ontario birth certificate. The government once considered him a Canadian citizen and issued him a passport.

It now claims that was all a mistake, and although Mr. Budlakoti was born in Canada and his parents and younger brother are Canadian, he was never really a citizen, the government says. He's also a criminal and thus deserves to be deported, it says.

Mr. Budlakoti, 23, whose extensive criminal record includes trying to sell a gun to an Ottawa undercover cop and hundreds of break-ins, faces a last-chance effort to stay in Canada at a hearing on Wednesday. But the prospects are grim.

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Unless the Harper government has a change of heart, federal agents will take him from a Toronto jail to Pearson airport and bundle him onto a flight bound for India – a country he has never visited.

Mr. Budlakoti admits he's scared at the prospect of being forcibly sent to India, where he has no home, no job, no friends and no prospect of returning to Canada.

"Canada is my country," he said in a telephone interview from prison. "I had a passport, the government told me I was a citizen." Now, he said, they "found a way to take my citizenship away."

The government argues Mr. Budlakoti should be tossed out of Canada, just like any other convicted criminal who is not a citizen or landed immigrant. It says Mr. Budlakoti was born while his parents were working as servants to the Indian High Commissioner in 1989 and therefore – unlike children born to tourists or those illegally in Canada – is Indian, not Canadian.

His lawyer, Peter Stieda, accuses the government of using a technicality and ignoring its own mistakes. It wants to rid Canada of someone it does not like, he said.

Ottawa is "punishing Deepan, by way of banishment, as a result of a strict technicality of the law," Mr. Stieda said, adding that the government "is definitely not acting in good faith."

Mr. Stieda, who represents many poor clients on a pro bono basis, said the government likes "deporting the disenfranchised."

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When Deepan was 12, his parents became Canadian citizens after years of cleaning toilets and gardening at the Indian embassy. On their original landed immigrant applications, they listed themselves, but not Deepan, because, as they wrote on the forms, their son was already a Canadian, born in Ontario.

The government admits it made a mistake giving him a passport, but says the fault is Mr. Budlakoti's. "While it's true that he was issued a Canadian passport, the passport application incorrectly referred to Mr. Budlakoti as a citizen," Paul Northcott, spokesman for Citizenship and Immigration, said in response to written questions from The Globe and Mail. "This inaccurate information led to Mr. Budlakoti acquiring a passport that should not have been issued."

Passports are issued only to citizens, and government officials are supposed to check the supporting documents that applicants submit. When Mr. Budlakoti wound up in Joyceville penitentiary, the government ordered a review of his status.

Nathalie Des Rosiers, general counsel for the Canadian Civil Liberties Union, said the government is taking advantage of an opportunity to expel a criminal.

"There is no indication of fraud here, simply that Mr. Budlakoti is no longer the type of citizen that the minster [Jason Kenney] wants in Canada because he has committed a crime," she said.

"It is dangerous for a democracy to create a system where people should always be fearful of not breaching any laws or of upsetting anyone so that they can remain safely where they live."

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Mr. Budlakoti's deportation is likely to be permanent exile. "Deportation usually means that one cannot ever return to Canada," Mr. Northcott said, adding "there are certain limited circumstances in which a person who has been deported may return."

Mr. Budlakoti has little hope. "Some people are not allowed to come to Canada. They are known as 'inadmissible,'" Mr. Northcott said. "There are a number of reasons you can be found inadmissible, denied a visa or refused entry to Canada … including criminality."

Ms. Des Rosiers warns the case is about far more than just a young man being kicked out of Canada because he has a criminal record.

"All Canadians and permanent residents should be worried about this vendetta, because it undermines the security and validity of immigration status and determination of citizenship."

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