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'I'm fighting to stay here': Sudbury queer immigrant facing deportation fears for safety

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A Sudbury man facing deportation fears for his safety due to his sexuality if he is sent back to India.

Tarun Godara fled India seven years ago at the encouragement of his brother, arriving in Sudbury on a student VISA and graduating from Cambrian College with a diploma in art.

Godara now considers Sudbury his home and a place where he can be himself.

In 2022, Godara applied for a work permit extension and was surprised to receive a rejected application. He said he was told by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) that the policy had changed.

Each application costs around $650, which Godara said he'd have to take some time to save up for. While he was saving up to reapply, he received a call from the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).

"I got a call from CBSA saying I worked for two to three weeks without a work permit," he said.

"I was not aware of that."

Godara hired Douglas Elliott of Cambridge LLP, a recognized expert on LGBTQ rights with more than 40 years of experience in law, saying he believes India is not a welcoming space for individuals identifying as LGBTQ2S+.

"There are incidents of violence that the police do nothing about, sexual assault that the police do nothing about," Elliott said.

"One of the ugly sides of Indian society is honour killings, where sometimes families arrange to kill someone who they believe has brought shame to their families."

Elliott had been fighting on Godara's behalf to stay in Canada during a pre-risk removal assessment, which was unsuccessful.

On March 8, Godara received notice from the CBSA that he must present himself at the airport in Toronto on April 16 to be deported to India.

The CBSA declined CTV News' request for an interview and said it could not comment on specific cases.

"The decision to remove someone from Canada is not taken lightly," a CBSA spokesperson said in a statement.
"There are multiple steps built into the process to ensure procedural fairness and the CBSA only actions a removal order once all legal avenues of recourse that can stay a removal have been exhausted."

Godara said he, along with his lawyer, presented more than 200 pieces of evidence demonstrating that violence towards LGBTQ2s+ individuals still exists in his home country.

Growing up in India, Godara said he felt pressured to hide his sexuality from his family.

"I came from a family that are very conservative and I was afraid of what might happen," he said.

"And the fact that I was in the closet and struggling with mental issues."

In India, Godara said he was sexually assaulted and he was also blackmailed for being gay.

"I was blackmailed by my ex-boyfriend because I broke up with him," he said.

"There were no laws protecting me, if I had of reported anything, I would have ended up in prison."

India changed its law prohibiting homosexuality in 2018, but Godara said social stigma is very present in the country.

"There's people still being separated from their families or being beaten up by police or being blackmailed or being catfished by straight people and then blackmailed to be outed," he said.

"(Queer) people are still committing suicide."

Mario Bellissimo is an immigration lawyer in Toronto who is not associated with the case.

"For an individual facing deportation, despite what the official line may be, it's sometimes disconnected from their reality upon return and it creates incredible strife for the individual, for the advocates who are trying to prevent removal," Bellissimo said.

He said the system isn't designed to be applicant-centred, which he believes led to Godara being in these circumstances.

"Where it's not hard to speak to someone, where it's not so difficult to fix a potential glitch, where it's not a violation of the law and then by operation of the law, there's very little you can do," he said.

Elliott said he plans to fight Godara's case in the federal court and Godara has applied to stay in Canada on humanitarian compassionate grounds.

His friends have set up an online fundraiser to help him with lawyer's fees.

"I didn’t want to live in a big city, so I came to Sudbury. I thought I had made the biggest mistake in my life, but seven years later, I'm fighting to stay here," Godara said.

"I met people that are my family and I'm scared to lose that."

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