We like to believe that our citizenship is integral to our identity. Unless we renounce it, we like to believe it cannot be taken away from us, and that is why we cherish it so much.
Of course that changed in 2014 with Bill C-24, which strengthened the ability of the government to revoke citizenship. Unless it was obtained fraudulently, the government was not able to enact this measure in modern times.
The number of revocations under Bill C-24 have actually increased under the new government, which appeared to criticize it while in opposition and restored citizenship to some individuals who had lost it. The one supposedly redeeming quality of these powers is that they only applied to individuals who have dual citizenship or immigrated to Canada.
This double standard has been seen with citizenship in our past as well. During the 1920s, hundreds of naturalized Canadians lost their status because they were believed to be communists. These measures were subsequently justified given similar actions in the U.S., due to the American counterintelligence program, the Venona project, which identified that Soviet infiltrators were seeking to undermine western countries from within.
But for citizens born in Canada, we presume with greater confidence in the security of our citizenship. Except in the bizarre case of Deepan Budlakoti. A short film of his ordeal, Stateless, was screened during the opening night of the Jayu Film Festival.
Budlakoti was born in Canada in 1989. He lived in Canada his entire life, believing himself to be a citizen, and even holding a Canadian passport. His life came under greater scrutiny however when he was convicted of several crimes in 2009-2010 and was incarcerated for several years.
In 2011, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration investigated his states, and determined that he was a permanent resident, and not a Canadian citizen. Given the nature of his crimes, the Minister then sought an order from the Immigration and Refugee Board to have him removed from Canada as someone who would be inadmissible due to serious criminality under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
The reason for this determination is that around the time he was born, Budlakoti’s parents were apparently employees of the officials at the Indian High Commission. Although s. 3(1)(a) of the Citizenship Act provides citizenship to persons born in Canada, s. 3(2) states that this right is not applicable to diplomatic, consular officers, or other representative of a foreign government, or their employees.
Budlakoti claims that he was born after his parents’ employment with the Indian High Commission had already ended. His mother stopped working while she was pregnant with him, and his father said he left the job just months before Budlakoti was born to
The Immigration and Refugee Board ruled that that he was not a citizen because he was unable to prove his parents’ status,
 If we look at the two Indian passports of Mr. Chander Budlakoti we can say that his diplomatic status was renewed after his son’s birth and that it was revoked, by the Canadian authorities, on January 2nd, 1990 (P-1, page 21). He used his diplomatic passport on the 13th of December 1989 (P-1, page #22). We can reasonably say that he still had diplomatic status on December 13th, 1989, two months after his son’s birth. He may have started procedures to change his status in Canada earlier but it appears that he still had diplomatic status until January 1990. Mr. Deepan Budlakoti was not able to prove, on the balance of probabilities, that he is a Canadian citizen.
On judicial review at the Federal Court, the court rejected the employment issue on the doctrine of issue estoppel, and also considered the Charter implications. The documentary evidence on the employment issue was itself internally inconsistent, providing conflicting information about the dates and status for Budlakoti’s parents.
His s. 6 rights were not engaged, according to the Federal Court, because Budlakoti was never actually a citizen. The Federal Court of Appeal confirmed in Solis v. Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration) that the notion of citizenship has no independent meaning from statute, and permanent residents do not benefit from this provision in the Charter.
Budlakoti was entitled to s. 7 rights, but the Federal Court was unable to find a violation here as well. The court referenced Lee v. Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration) to support the proposition that s. 7 rights would only emerge on deportation, at which point an applicant can make an application based on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
The court referenced para 104 of Chaoulli v Quebec (Attorney General) to support the position that there is no freestanding constitutional right to health care, and the denial of the same does not violate s. 7.
The problem with these s. 7 arguments is that in Lee, the applicant, who was also born in Canada to a diplomat, grew up in Malaysia and held Malaysian citizenship. Budlakoti has never lived in India, and does not hold Indian citizenship. He is effectively, in his submissions, stateless.
Additionally, the passage referenced in Chaoulli also states that where the government does provide a scheme to provide health care, it must be Charter compliant. This decision preceded the decisions in Canadian Doctors For Refugee Care v Canada (AG) and Charkaoui, which jointly might provide a different interpretation of s. 7 in the context of non-citizens.
The Federal Court of Appeal addressed these issues in Budlakoti by interpreting Article 1 of the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness as where a person cannot obtain citizenship or national status elsewhere. The court concluded that Budlakoti is not “yet” stateless, because he can apply for citizenship in Canada and in India. He was also not deprived of medical care because he did have coverage up until the point where he lost his permanent resident status as a result of his crimes.
Although Budlakoti had never lived in India, the court stated that he could apply for citizenship on the basis of his parents. He could also apply for citizenship in Canada under under s. 5(4) of the Citizenship Act for “special and unusual hardship.”
Leave to appeal to the Supreme Court on this particular decision has been denied, but it’s expected that Budlakoti will presumably attempt some form of citizenship application and subsequent review of any decisions as necessary.
In the meantime, Deepan Budlakoti is stuck in Canada, without Canadian citizenship or permanent residence status, with no other country to call his home. It’s a nightmare that even the Federal Court of Appeal described at para 24 as “an unfortunate confluence of factors both within and beyond his control.”