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'Stateless' Man Born in Canada Fights for Citizenship

Deepan Budlakoti never had issues with his citizenship until he was convicted of drugs and weapons charges. Now his legal case hinges on whether his parents were working for the Indian High Commission at the time of his birth.

by Rachel Browne
May 29 2015, 6:40pm

Photo by Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

For the last five years, Deepan Budlakoti has fought to be accepted by the only country he has ever known.

In what is believed to be the only situation of its kind, Budlakoti has tried and failed to get Canadian citizenship, even though he was born in the nation's capital. Despite the setbacks, he took his case to the Federal Court of Appeal this week, on the hope that, finally, his identity will be recognized.

Budlakoti was born in Ottawa in October of 1989 to parents who arrived from India four years earlier to work for the Indian High Commission.

Everything looked good on paper: he was issued a birth certificate and a Canadian passport. As far as he and his family were concerned, there was no doubt that he was a Canadian citizen, just like everyone else born in Canada.

But that all changed in 2010, when Budlakoti, then 19, was convicted of trafficking weapons and drugs.

Upon his release from jail, Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officials informed him that his citizenship was under review and that they had begun the process to get him deported.

He was confused and outraged. "Is citizenship in this country a privilege or a right?" Budlakoti said to VICE News after the hearing.

The Canadian government claims that Budlakoti was never a Canadian citizen because his parents were employed by the Indian embassy at the time he was born. Budlakoti should never have been issued a birth certificate or passport, according to the government.

Under Canadian law, everyone born in the country is automatically a citizen, except for those whose parents are from another country living in Canada to work for foreign governments.

Budlakoti argues that his parents had already quit their jobs with the Indian High Commission before he we born. The government maintains his parents were still employed for two months after his birth. It's this small but crucial detail on which his entire future rests.

In 2011, the country's immigration tribunal issued a deportation order against him, except he has nowhere to go. Not only does Canada not want him, the government in India refuses to provide him with travel documents because he is not an Indian citizen.

Since then, Budlakoti says has lived as a stateless man. That means no permanent work permit, no access to provincial health care, no right to vote.

"It's hard to maintain a normal life. I'm constantly trying to make money to pay lawyers. This has been a significant burden on my personal and family life," he said.

In addition to his new case at the Federal Court, Budlakoti has also submitted a claim to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, asking it to recommend Canada provide him citizenship.

However, the Canadian government argued in court this week that Budlakoti is not stateless because he hasn't applied for citizenship in India. Budlakoti's lawyers say India has already made it clear it won't accept him.

Related: This Canadian Criminal's Fight to Regain Citizenship May Set a Precedent For New Citizenship Laws

One of Budlakoti's lawyers, Yavar Hameed, told VICE News that while Budlakoti's case is complicated and exceptional, Canadians should pay close attention to it, especially as the government moves to amend existing laws around citizenship eligibility.

"It's becoming easier for the government to remove citizenship from Canadians," he said.

He points to Bill C-24, the recently implemented Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act, which makes it more difficult for people to get Canadian citizenship and easier for the government to strip it from people in certain cases.

"Canadians should care about his case because the government is saying… we can take away your only nationality."

Hameed said. "It could come to the point where you have to show that you can't have status anywhere else in the world. That onus is a slippery slope."

This month, Canada's public safety minister announced The Removal of Serious Foreign Criminals Act, new legislation that would make it quicker and easier for the government to deport permanent residents and foreigners who have been convicted of criminal offences.

Hameed expects the court to decide on Budlakoti's case in the next month.