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Would-be deportee pleads: 'I'm a Canadian'

An Ontario birth certificate for Deepan Budlakoti isn't enough to convince the federal government of his citizenship. The government is trying to deport Budlakoti, saying it issued him a passport by mistake.

He has an Ontario birth certificate and a Canadian passport, but the Harper government still wants to deport him because he also has a criminal record.

Even the worst criminals can't be tossed out of the country if they are citizens, but the government contends Deepan Budlakoti isn't really a Canadian.

He is the son of a pair of household servants who worked for the Indian High Commissioner, and as such was covered by the Vienna Convention. It confers diplomatic immunity, but also denies citizenship, to any children born to those with diplomatic status in Canada during their postings.

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Mr. Budlakoti, however, argues his father was no longer working for the High Commissioner and had been in Canada on a legal work visa for more than four months when he was born in October of 1989. If the father's status in Canada changed from the personal servant of a foreign diplomat to a legal worker, any children born in Canada after the change would be citizens.

"I'm a Canadian. I was born here. What else am I?" Mr. Budlakoti said in a brief telephone interview from the medium-security Joyceville Institution, near Kingston, Ont. He admits to being afraid of being deported.

The government, however, says he isn't a Canadian, and that issuing him a passport was a mistake. Mr. Budlakoti, 22, faces a deportation hearing Monday in Joyceville, where he is serving time for breaking and entering and firearms offences, including selling a handgun to an undercover police officer.

"It is frightening when you see situations where someone who is a Canadian citizen faces forced removal from Canada," said Peter Stieda, the Ottawa lawyer handling the case. "We have to fight hard to make sure this doesn't happen to a Canadian."

Citizenship and immigration agents have built a case to show Mr. Budlakoti should never have been given a passport. It contends that the family should have included the boy in the application for landed immigrant status that the parents successfully submitted several years later. The parents point out that they believed their son, with his Ontario birth certificate, was a natural-born citizen. On their 1997 application for citizenship, they noted that Deepan was already a citizen.

Into the legal fray has stepped Ottawa physician and university professor Harsha Dehejia, who says he hired Mr. Budlakoti's father, and got him the work visa. Dr. Dehejia says he can't stand by while the government tries to expel a citizen.

According to Dr. Dehejia, he hired Mr. Budlakoti's father in June of 1989 – more than five months before the boy was born – as the Indian High Commissioner prepared to return to Delhi at the end of his posting.

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More importantly, he flew with Mr. Budlakoti senior to Boston so he could obtain the proper Canadian work visa. The father worked for several years for Dr. Dehejia, an internationally published expert on ancient Indian culture who teaches at Carleton University. Deepan's father eventually left the doctor's employ to work as a school janitor.

"I took him personally to Boston and got him his work visa because he barely spoke any English and it would have been wrong to send him on his own," Dr. Dehejia said. He said he initially met the family because he was a physician to many of the Indian embassy diplomats. "At the time I hired [the father,] the mother was not working because she was pregnant," he said.

And Dr. Dehejia, who has offered to testify at the hearing, says he spent the time and money to accompany Mr. Budlakoti to Boston because he wanted "to be completely satisfied from the officials that everything was in order."

The Globe and Mail is in possession of the relevant pages of the senior Mr. Budlakoti's passport, showing that visa, issued by the Canadian consulate in Boston in June of 1989.

It remains unclear why the government would fail to disclose to an "admissibility" hearing all of the relevant information. But the lapse puts Mr. Budlakoti in jeopardy of being deported to India once his prison term ends in 13 months.

"The government seems very keen to remove Deepan, and dump him in a place where he doesn't speak the language and knows almost no one," Mr. Stieda said. "He is obviously scared, very scared, spent all of two weeks in India when he was a child, he doesn't speak the language, knows nothing about the country."

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International Affairs and Security Correspondent

Paul More

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