Sudbury resident fears he will be persecuted - or worse - if returned to India

Tarun Godara has called Sudbury home for the last seven years and says he doesn’t want to live anywhere else in the world.

The visual artist arrived as an international student but chose to remain in a community that he says inspires and accepts him. But Godara now faces deportation after a failed attempt to renew a work visa and then being turned down again by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada in an application he filed to remain in Canada on the basis that he would be subjected to danger and persecution if he were to return to India.

As a member of the 2SLGBTQI+ community, Godara fears that if he were to return to India, he would not be able to be himself and worse, that his life could be in danger.

“I’m a gay man and don’t feel safe going back to India,” said Godara.

Godara is fighting the deportation order and has retained legal representation. His friend has also started a GoFundMe campaign to help him pay the associated legal fees and the cost of living.

Godara has worked as an art instructor at the Art Gallery of Sudbury, as a server, barista, cook and even part-time instructor in the fine art program he graduated from at Cambrian College, but because of his visa and deportation status, he is currently not legally able to make a living and is relying on the support of friends.

“I always wanted to be an artist but I never had the opportunity to pursue a career in arts because growing up in a conservative Indian household, most kids get pushed into being an engineer, doctor, lawyer or police,” he said about his upbringing.

Godara became an engineer; however, he felt like he could never let his guard down. In India, he has been targeted because of his sexuality — blackmailed and even sexually assaulted, a trauma that has caused detrimental effects on his mental health but from which he is healing from, thanks to the support of health care professionals and friends in Sudbury.

“There was constant internal turmoil,” he said about his time in India, “but also just being scared of people finding out, something going wrong and walking on eggshells for doing or saying the wrong thing.”

The caste system also dictates who one should marry in India and when rules are violated, violence and honour killings are possible consequences and a reality for Godara.

Enjoyed freedom

“Coming here, I was able to receive a formal education in arts but also experience freedom,” he said. “I never felt freedom before but coming here, I was allowed to be who I wanted. It was an easy decision to leave and come here.”

Fast forward to the pandemic, when Godara was working and looking to extend his work permit. The federal government had introduced a policy to provide an additional 18-month work permit to postgraduate work permit holders.

However, Godara said the policy was not going to be implemented until after his work permit was set to expire. In consultation with immigration officials and the Sudbury MP office, he applied but was rejected because he didn’t mention the specific policy he was applying under.

While preparing to re-apply, Godara continued to work. He had to pay his regular bills, along with the fees associated with his immigration application. However, when immigration officials learned he was working, without a permit, he was issued a deportation order.

“If I was aware that I wasn’t supposed to work, I wouldn’t have done that,” he said. “I had paid my taxes and paid my bills and any outstanding amounts or credits. I was trying to do everything correctly.”

That is when Godara took the next step to fight the deportation order and filed a pre-removal risk assessment. According to the application guide, the pre-removal risk assessment is an “opportunity for people who are facing removal from Canada to seek protection by describing, in writing, the risks they believe they would face if removed. Persons whose PRRA applications are approved may stay in Canada.”

Godara said it was never his intention to file the pre-removal risk assessment; he only wanted to extend his work permit and failing its rejection he was left with no other choice. His application for the pre-removal risk assessment was rejected last month.

Lawyer helping

Douglas Elliott is one of the lawyers representing Godara. Elliott is a partner in the law firm of Cambridge LLP in Elliot Lake and is well known for his class action work on ground-breaking constitutional cases concerning same-sex partners and 2SLGBTQI+ rights. He said that his community faces “state persecution” in India and it’s only getting worse.

There was hope that India’s Supreme Court would grant legal recognition to same sex marriage last fall; however the country’s highest court ruled that it was up to parliament to make the change. Elliott says that will never happen.

“The (Narendra) Modi government is very conservative,” said Elliott. “It’s what I would call a right-wing populist government, similar to Donald Trump in the United States, similar to Putin in Russia and Erdogan in Turkey. It appeals to the far right of the population, to nationalism, conservative traditional family values, and so on …

"Modi has adopted the idea that homosexuality is against Indian traditions and values.”

Modi’s followers have only become more violent toward the communities they do not support, said Elliott, which includes women, Muslims and 2SLGBTQI+ people.

“In Canada, we get this idea that things are getting better everywhere, especially for LGBTQ people, and it is getting better in some places, like Greece,” said Elliott. “But in some countries, things are not getting better, they are getting worse. They are getting worse in Russia, Hungary and Turkey and they are certainly getting worse in India.”

The Sudbury Star reached out to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to learn how pre-removal risk assessments are assessed and how results are determined.

A spokesperson for the department said that due to privacy legislation, they could not comment on individual cases. The department issued the following statement:

“A PRRA (Pre-Removal Risk Assessment) is an individualized risk assessment that evaluates whether a person would face persecution (for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion), torture, risk to life or risk of cruel and unusual treatment or punishment, if removed from Canada.

"PRRAs are conducted by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) officials who are experts in risk-assessment. The majority of PRRA applications come from refugee protection claimants that have had their risk previously assessed by the the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). PRRA decisions may be judicially reviewed by the Federal Court."

PRRA applications are considered on a case-by-case basis, based on the information presented by the applicant. Eligible applicants are given the opportunity to present their case by providing documentary evidence and any other relevant information to support their application. The PRRA officer will also undertake research independent of the issues identified in the application. The research sources consulted by the PRRA officer will vary with each individual case.

"Applicants whose PRRA claims are denied are barred from re-applying for a risk assessment for 12 months," the statement said. "However, in certain cases, the 12-month bar to apply for a PRRA can be waived for nationals or former habitual residents of a country where the department identifies that a sudden and significant change in country conditions places individuals at a higher risk if returned.

"In this case, an exemption to the PRRA bar can be implemented, which allows eligible applicants to apply before 12 months have lapsed since their last negative decision. As previously mentioned, cases are assessed by PRRA officers on the basis of their own merit.”

As far as Godara’s case, his lawyer said there is no date for litigation. To help Godara pay his legal fees and support his day-to-day living, visit the GoFundMe page at: www.gofundme.com/f/tarun-fighting-deportation.

The Local Journalism Initiative is made possible through funding from the federal government.

sud.editorial@sunmedia.ca

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Laura Stradiotto, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Sudbury Star