Ex-KGB agent takes sanctuary in B.C. church

Posted by admin on Jun 2nd, 2009

By Neal Hall, Vancouver Sun June 2

A Vancouver church granted sanctuary Tuesday to Mikhail Lennikov, a former Russian KGB agent who is facing deportation. “We did so because we believe it is the right thing to do,” said Pastor Richard Hergesheimer of Vancouver’s First Lutheran Church. “We will provide him with a safe place to stay until he is no longer under the threat of deportation and is free to return home and be reunited with his wife, Irina, and his son, Dmitri,” he added. Lennikov, 48, who lives in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby with his family, is a member of the church congregation.

He is facing deportation to Russia Wednesday morning after a Federal Court judge rejected Lennikov’s final bid to stay in Canada.

His wife and 17-year-old son, who graduated from high school last Friday, were also ordered removed but were later allowed to stay for compassionate and humanitarian reasons.

Lennikov, however, was rejected after officials deemed he is a security risk because he had worked for five years in the 1980s for the KGB secret police.

On Tuesday Lennikov said it was a “family decision” to seek sanctuary.

“I will stay as long as we are able to find a solution or a way to keep the family together,” he said. “I would like to stay as long as possible with my family and see if there are any other options left . . . because if or when I am deported to Russia, it basically will be separation for life from my family.”

Lennikov came to Canada with his family in 1997 on a student visa to complete a master’s degree in Japanese literature. He was working on a PhD at the University of B.C. when officials ordered him removed from Canada.

Last week, Lennikov made a last-minute bid in Federal Court to have a stay of execution of the removal order. Justice Russell Zinn, in a ruling released Monday, dismissed the stay application.

The judge said that, while Lennikov and his family have many supporters in Canada and have conducted themselves well since they moved here, allowing him to stay would not promote fairness and public confidence in Canada’s immigration system.

Zinn said there was no evidence the Lennikovs would suffer worse depression and anxiety than any other family would face with the removal of a husband and father.

“However tragic, this is one of the usual consequences of deportation,” the judge concluded.

The judge also rejected Lennikov’s claims that he will be arrested and charged with treason if returned to Russia for revealing what he did while working for the KGB, the now-disbanded secret police force.

Lennikov doesn’t believe he can change the judge’s mind.

“I believe that no matter what I say, I won’t be able to change their opinion. But there here are other people who are trying to look at the facts of my case, and they believe I don’t pose any threat to Canada,” he said Tuesday.

“I’m not, as the law stipulates, detrimental to Canadian society.”

Lennikov and his family went to Ottawa last week to plead with politicians to allow him to stay, but he was rebuffed by the Conservative government.

Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan issued a statement, saying: “Mr. Lennikov is inadmissible to Canada under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act on security grounds. This is a decision upheld by both the immigration division of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada and the Federal Court.

“The removal of inadmissible individuals is key to maintaining the integrity of the immigration program and to ensuring fairness for those who come to this country lawfully.”

Lennikov was deemed a security risk after Canadian officials decided he was not completely forthright about his KGB past, which he initially listed as “military service.”

Lennikov’s lawyer argued last Thursday that when his client was interviewed by a Canadian Border Services Agency officer, he answered every question.

Federal lawyer Banafsheh Sokhansanj argued that Lennikov downplayed his role in the KGB and claimed he was a low-level functionary, but the evidence shows he gathered intelligence on Japanese businessmen visiting Russia and supervised Japanese student informants, reporting back to Moscow.

According to documents filed with the Immigration and Refugee Board, Lennikov was recruited into the KGB in 1982 after leaving university and worked in the Japanese section.

Unhappy with the work, he left the KGB in 1988. He and his family left Russia in 1995 for Japan and then came to Canada.

After leaving, he received a number of warnings from KGB contacts that he was a marked man and was considered a traitor.

Questioned Tuesday about the matter, Van Loan said the government will not intervene.

“No, we will be respecting the decisions of the courts in this matter and we will be undertaking my obligation under the law to remove someone who the courts have ordered removed.”

Asked why Lennikov is deemed a national risk, the minister said: “Individuals who have been involved in espionage against our country or other countries, or have been a member of an agency that conducts that, are not admissible to Canada under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. The same has been found by the Immigration and Refugee Board, (and) by the Federal Court.”

Meanwhile, 23 members of Parliament co-signed a letter Tuesday to Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney and Van Loan, urging them to halt the deportation order.

Liberal, Bloc Quebecois and New Democrat MPs spoke about the urgency of stopping the deportation order.

“This deportation order will tear this family apart only days after Mr. Lennikov’s son (graduated) from high school,” said Peter Julian, NDP MP for Burnaby-New Westminster. “The Lennikovs have made an invaluable contribution to the community and there are precedents for granting residence to Mr. Lennikov. It’s not too late to do the right thing.”

Last year, Amir Kazemian was granted permanent residency in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds after spending more than two years in the sanctuary of St. Michael’s Anglican Church in Vancouver.

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