By Matt Cicero

On Nov. 6, 2017 Deepan Budlakoti, a Canadian-born man of South Asian descent made stateless in 2011, was arrested by the Ontario Provincial Police in connection with alleged weapons offences.

The next evening, Budlakoti was transferred to the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC). In addition to being stateless, he was denied bail and has been imprisoned ever since. Meanwhile his co-accused, who are white and Canadian citizens, received bail.

Budlakoti’s citizenship was stripped from him in 2011 while the Harper Conservatives were in power.

The Leveller reached Budlakoti by phone and asked why he had not received bail: “My case is high profile in terms of immigration matters,” he said. “I’m Brown. I have a beard. It’s systemic racism, inbred into the system. It’s harder for people of colour to get bail than it is for Caucasian people.”

Deepan Budlakoti
Credit- Justice for Deepan

Since 2013, Budlakoti and the Justice for Deepan Committee, have been fighting a campaign to get his citizenship back. Budlakoti and the committee say that the Canadian government has violated his human rights – rights that, as signatories to the UN Convention on Human Rights and the UN Convention on Statelessness, they have a moral and legal duty to uphold.

In an April 2018 decision, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said that Budlakoti’s deportation to India would violate his rights under articles 12(4), 17 and 23(1) of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Crime, Immigration and Punishment

Budlakoti’s citizenship was stripped from him in 2011 while the Harper Conservatives were in power.

Budlakoti was born in Ottawa at the former Grace Hospital in 1989. His parents, who were Indian nationals, worked as gardeners, cooks and cleaners at the Indian High Commission, but left their jobs to work for a medical doctor before Budlakoti was born.

The Canadian government, however, refuses to accept this version of events. It says that Budlakoti’s parents still worked for the Indian High Commission, and so, because of a law that prevents the children of foreign diplomatic staff from becoming citizens by being born in Canada, Budlakoti is not a citizen.

It insists that this is the correct version of events, despite the fact that Budlakoti had a long-form Canadian birth certificate, passport, health card and social insurance number, all evidence of his citizenship.

It was not until Budlakoti was convicted and imprisoned for narcotics and weapons trafficking in 2010 that the question of his citizenship first came to the attention of the authorities. A prison guard asked Budlakoti about his status. This eventually led to private discussions among bureaucrats at Citizenship and Immigration Canada, and ultimately to a 2011 decision by then Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Canada Jason Kenney to strip Budlakoti of his citizenship.

Budlakoti, Kenney declared, was a permanent resident, not a citizen. Subsequently the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada ruled that, as he a permanent resident, he was inadmissible to Canada on the grounds of “serious criminality.”

The Canadian government tried to have him deported, and he was held in immigration detention for several months. However, the Indian government refused to accept the deportation of Budlakoti to India.

Today, Budlakoti is stateless and lives in dire poverty as a result.

Law and Order, Borders and Prisons

The efforts to deport Budlakoti are part of a growing trend in Canada to restrict immigration, making it harder to acquire citizenship and easier to lose it, and to view migrants as threats to national security.

It’s also part of the law and order agenda that demands larger police forces, larger prisons, and harsher sentences. It demonizes people who have committed crimes, as well as people who have only been accused of illegal activities.

“This would never have happened to someone who was white, I’m almost certain,” said Diana Ralph, one of Budlakoti’s supporters, when interviewed by The Leveller. “Years ago I was working to support the security certificate detainees, five Muslim men. This is a Muslim man. None of them were guilty of anything, but they were kept without charge.”

Despite not being convicted of anything, “Deepan has now been in jail for well over a year,” Ralph noted.

The Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre

If you talk with Mr. Budlakoti these days he speaks most about the conditions in the OCDC where he has been imprisoned since November 2017.

The OCDC is located on Innes Road in Ottawa and is considered one of the worst detention centres in the province.

In 2016, after a serious scandal about the conditions there, then correctional services minister Yasir Naqvi visited the centre, and the OCDC task force was created to ensure conditions improved.

“We’re living in a hallway that’s about a two metres wide and a 45 metres long,” said Budlakoti. “Twenty-four people in a range, double bunked. No sunlight comes in. You sit in front of the toilet to eat on the floor, like a dog. Yet there’s tables outside on the range.”

Another inmate, who spoke to The Leveller on condition of anonymity, called the conditions “deplorable,” while noting that in the 10 years since he was first incarcerated in the OCDC there has been some improvement.

He said that while there is now recreation once a week and some games, such as puzzles, there remains little to do.

There is only one program available to prisoners, a four-week anger management course. Prisoners who want to do school are limited to only four classes.

Prisoners also say that the food is terrible.  They are only permitted 40 minutes a week for visitors, including family. Both Mr. Budlakoti and the anonymous prisoner said that the conditions are hard on their physical and mental health.

In 2015 and 2016 three prisoners committed suicide at the Ottawa Carleton Detention Centre.

Budlakoti, who has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, has not received therapy despite repeated requests. He has had to fight hard to get any of the medical attention that he needs.

“It’s not a healthy living environment, whatsoever,” the anonymous prisoner told The Leveller. “It’s dirty. There’s clogged up vents with dust in them. Every day is long and hard in this place. And for a lot of people that are not built for it psychologically, it’s tough. You can break down.”

Guilty by Accusation

Many of the prisoners at the OCDC are awaiting trial. These prisoners have not yet been found guilty of the crimes for which they are accused. However because of systemic racial and class oppression they are forced to spend months or even years waiting for trial.

The anonymous prisoner The Leveller spoke with, who expects his charges to be dropped, has spent two years at the OCDC. This is time he will never get back.

It is time spent in hard, inhumane conditions that violate these prisoners’ rights under section 11 (d) Canadian Charter of Rights & Freedoms and multiple sections of the UN’s Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.

Budlakoti will be at the provincial courthouse from Oct. 30 to Nov. 2, after spending almost a year at the OCDC. He has not been found guilty of a crime. Budlakoti is asking supporters to come to the courtroom on Oct. 30 and 31.

From the phone inside the maximum security prison where he has been housed for the past year, Budlakoti told The Leveller, “You are not classified as innocent here. You’re classified as guilty. And people should be aware that this is not right. This should not be happening in the capital city of Canada.”

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