HTTPS://OTTAWACITIZEN.COM/AUTHOR/STACY-DOUGLAS) Updated: October 28, 2019
He was born at Ottawa Grace Hospital in 1989. He had a passport. He was accustomed to the entitlements of citizenship. Eight years ago, he was told that he was no longer able to legally
This week, just after his 30th birthday, Ottawa- born Deepan Budlakoti was denied the right to cast a ballot for a third federal election in a row. Eight years ago, Budlakoti was rendered stateless in the only country that he has ever lived in. While serving a short prison sentence for unrelated matters, he was informed by federal officials that his citizenship had been granted in error.
Budlakoti was understandably confused. He was born at Ottawa Grace Hospital in 1989. He had a passport. He was accustomed to the entitlements of citizenship. Now he was being told that he was no longer able to legally work, no longer able to access health care. He was no longer a Canadian.The “error” in his status was detected by federal officials tasked by the Stephen Harper government with ferreting out ambiguous citizenship claims. The Conservatives were seeking to deliver on “tough on crime” promises by deporting people with criminal convictions. Budlakoti’s file was flagged in this process in 2011.
The Conservatives were seeking to deliver on “tough on crime” promises by deporting people with criminal convictions. Budlakoti’s ﬁle was ﬂagged in this process in 2011.
Officials argued that Budlakoti’s parents – former cleaning staff at the Indian High Commission in Ottawa – were diplomatic staff at the time of Budlakoti’s birth in October 1989. Section 3(2) of the Citizenship Act states that children of diplomats and other foreign officials born on Canadian soil are not entitled to citizenship rights. Budlakoti, his parents and the former High Commissioner claim otherwise – that their employment at the Embassy ended before Deepan’s birth.
Subsequent legal challenges have emphasized that the details of the employment relationship are murky at best. But despite this, and the fact that Budlakoti has no other citizenship, the Canadian government has let him languish without a nationality in his own country. It is shocking that a young man’s life could hinge on such a contested claim.
For nearly a decade, Budlakoti has been without citizenship. He has been denied the capacity to live a normal life in the only country he has ever known. And he has nowhere else to go.
Budlakoti’s case reminds us of the human challenges that are obscured by the bureaucratic category of “stateless.” This is inexcusable. Canada ratified the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness (https://www.unhcr.org/ibelong/wp-content/uploads/1961- Convention-on-the-reduction-of-Statelessness_ENG.pdf) in 1978, but has shirked its international obligations in Budlakoti’s case. For years, Budlakoti’s efforts to regain his status have been thwarted by federal courts, ministers of state and political leaders. Amnesty International and the United Nations have called on Canada to restore his rights.
What did you do in your 20s? I went to university. I cycled through jobs. I wrote plays. I rode my bike. I had two long-term relationships. I spent a couple of years in England.
Budlakoti has spent his 20s in an exhausting battle to regain the most basic semblance of a normal life. Without legal status, he has not been allowed to work. He has had no access to basic services, including health care. And not surprisingly, he has had trouble with the law. Last week, Budlakoti turned 30 in a regional detention centre. Sure, Budlakoti is no ideal citizen. This is why successive governments have refused to take his crisis seriously. Yet, he is still a citizen. Justin Trudeau’s Liberals came to power in 2015 promising that “a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian” but Budlakoti has had to learn the bitter lesson that their slogan had its limits.
After Monday’s election, Trudeau has a second chance to right this wrong.
Stacy Douglas is Associate Professor of Law and Legal Studies at Carleton University. She is also a member of the Justice for Deepan Support Committee