Canadian-born Deepan Budlakoti has lost his bid to be declared a Canadian citizen by the Federal Court of Canada. This decision, allowed through the new immigration laws of Bill C-24, has rendered Budlakoti stateless.

 

Budlakoti was born in Ottawa to Indian parents in the employ of the Indian High Commission. Children of diplomats are not entitled to citizenship by birth in the same way most children are; Budlakoti’s parents had, however, left their jobs at the consulate at the time of his birth. In 2009 he was charged with trafficking of weapons and drugs and sentenced to three years in federal prison.


It was while in prison he was informed that because his parents had been employed as diplomatic staff at the time of his birth—a claim he disputes—his Canadian citizenship had been issued by mistake, and was being revoked. The government intends to deport him to India, a country in which he has never lived and is not a citizen of. For its part, the Indian government is refusing to issue him travel documents given his ‘stateless’ status.

 

Bill C-24—ironically entitled “The Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act”—adds to the Harper government’s list of attempts to legislate ‘Canadian’ identity, and make life more difficult for immigrants and refugee claimants. Despite statements by Immigration Minister Chris Alexander that Bill C-24 would not render people stateless, this is exactly what it has done in the case of Deepan Budlakoti.


The revocation of Budlakoti’s passport and his subsequent deportation will be allowed through new provisions in Bill C-24, which empowers the Minister of Immigration to strip Canadians of their citizenship at his discretion—if they have committed a crime and the government has reason to believe they are citizens of another country.

 

Budlakoti’s lawyer, Peter Steida, highlighted an especially troubling aspect of this law and the tone it will set by stripping ‘undesirables’ of Canadian citizenship. According to Steida, “The present government now seeks to broaden the already far-reaching powers of the state in immigration law with [Bill C-24]. The legislation seeks to empower the government to strip Canadians of citizenship pursuant to a number of scenarios including when a citizen’s behaviour is ‘contrary to the national interest of Canada’... will that include political activism?”

 

The government, for its part, seems to find no issue with this possibility. Alexander’s Press Secretary, Alexis Pavlich, stated: "this convicted criminal has never been a Canadian citizen. He should not have chosen a life of crime if he did not want to be deported from Canada. Mr. Budlakoti is being removed from Canada for 'serious criminality.' He served significant jail time for trafficking both weapons and drugs."

 

The obvious issues with accusing someone of ‘choosing’ a “life of crime” aside, the Ministry’s statements ignore the fact that Budlakoti has already served his sentence. His case was only examined once he had been convicted of a crime, and the government explicitly states that his criminal activity is the reason for his deportation.


Bill C-24 has created an environment for the government to legislate against the presence of those it deems ‘undesirable’ in Canada. Had Budlakoti been what the government deemed an ‘upstanding citizen,’ it is worth questioning whether government officials would have bothered to look into his documentation.

 

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has taken Budlakoti’s case to the United Nations, saying it is a violation of the UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, of which Canada is party to.

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