Imagine being 23 years old, born and raised in Canada, and then waking up one morning to the news that your citizenship has been stripped in the only country you have ever called home.
That is Deepan Budlakoti’s story.
Born to Indian working class parents, growing up in the suburbs of Toronto, the first few years of Budlakoti’s life read like that of any child of immigrant parents. But in 2010, Budlakoti’s world as he knew it came to a screeching halt, and what happened after should give us all cause for concern.
On February 24, Deepan went to court to defend his right to health care.
While the government grants citizenship to almost every person born in Canada, a minor technicality denies citizenship to children born to parents working in Canada for foreign governments or diplomats.
Budlakoti’s family came to Canada working for Indian diplomats, but dispute that this was still the case when he was born. In fact, a former high commissioner of India in Canada has issued a statement asserting that Budlakoti’s father stopped working for him in June 1989, four months prior to Budlakoti’s birth.
While the Canadian and Indian governments continue to bicker over who is responsible for Budlakoti, he is caught in the middle, stateless and uninsured.
Living in Canada, there are certain rights we take for granted. Canadian citizenship is one that affords us with immense privileges, opening up doors and access to high quality, publicly funded health care, social services and basic democratic and legal rights.
As any other lifelong Canadian citizen, Budlakoti never could have imagined losing these rights nor how he should function without them. He is the first Canadian to become stateless as a result of our government’s actions. This sets a dangerous precedent that should trouble those concerned about basic rights in Canada.
In May 2014, Deepan found himself suddenly without health care due to his lack of citizenship. He has now joined the ranks of an estimated half a million people living in Canada without access to medical care because of their immigration status. This includes undocumented people, new immigrants in the first three months of arrival who are ineligible for services in Ontario, B.C. and Quebec, and refugees and refugee claimants who are forced to navigate a bureaucratic nightmare to access health services slashed by the federal government in 2012.
Those in Canada without health insurance often delay seeking care, therefore accessing services only when diseases are more advanced and mental health problems have been exacerbated. People without health insurance are forced to make the impossible choice between delayed care or debt.
The Canadian government’s attack on Budlakoti is part of a broader pattern of regressive and harmful immigration policy.
In recent years we have seen an increase in numbers of temporary migrant workers while permanent residency rates are decreasing. Many temporary workers do not have a path to citizenship.
Citizenship status is becoming increasingly harder to obtain and easier to lose. Those immigrants at an economic disadvantage are being prevented from reuniting with parents and grandparents. The government has been shamefully attempting to support these policy shifts by stoking anti-immigrant sentiment, referring to immigrants and refugees as “bogus” and “illegal.”
Budlakoti’s situation is unique in that he is fighting the withdrawal of a social right that he has exercised for more than 23 years in the only country he has ever known.
On top of all this, Canada is also refusing Budlakoti the right to work by denying him access to a work permit. Not only can he no longer access OHIP, he also has no means to finance private health insurance.
On February 24, years into this mess, Budlakoti appealled the government’s decision to deny his health coverage, while simultaneously running an online crowdfunding campaign to raise enough money to purchase private insurance.
As health-care providers and migrant justice advocates, we find it unacceptable that Budlakoti’s health is at risk while the government keeps him stateless. We support Budlakoti and all uninsured people in their fight for health care.
Health is a fundamental human right, and our government’s continued hostility towards immigrants and their health is alarming and unacceptable.
Nikki Bozinoff, Ritika Goel, Marcella Jones and Faraz Vahid Shahidi authored on behalf of Health for All.
Photo: flickr/ Lydia