IN THE NEWS ~ Facing deportation, Russian takes refuge in church

IDN: 091540136
DATE: 2009.06.03
SECTION: National News

IMMIGRATION Facing deportation, Russian takes refuge in church

After years of playing by the rules in his fight to stay in Canada, former KGB officer Mikhail Lennikov has turned his back on the law, defying a deportation order by seeking sanctuary in a Vancouver church basement.

Mr. Lennikov, 48, was to be sent back to his Russian homeland this morning. Instead, he headed for First Lutheran Church in East Vancouver, which had been planning for his arrival in the event his immigration appeals failed.

"I've got nothing to lose," Mr. Lennikov said in a telephone interview from inside the church.

"It's not my intention to anger anyone," he continued, but added he never had any intention of boarding the Russia-bound plane. Leaving Canada that way, he said would mean he might never see his wife and teenage son again.

Mr. Lennikov's wife, Irina, and son, Dmitri, who at one point also faced deportation, have been given the green light to apply for permanent residence status.

Mr. Lennikov's deportation will effectively tear the family apart.

"I'm going to stay until we can find a solution to keep us together as a family," he said.

Mr. Lennikov, who worked five years for the infamous Soviet secret police service before quitting in the late 1980s, has been fighting for years to stay in Canada. He has always maintained that he was a reluctant KGB member, recruited against his will while he was a university student in Vladivostok in Russia's Far East. He eventually quit, but Canadian officials say his past with the secret police makes him a security threat.

Mr. Lennikov said he's been a model citizen since arriving in Canada in 1997 and has never lied about his past.

Just before noon yesterday, he slipped into the church. His pastor, Richard Hergesheimer, said the church believed that providing him refuge was the right thing to do.

"We're aware that sanctuary is illegal," Pastor Hergesheimer said.

"But it's not wrong, at least not as far as we're concerned. It's only necessary because the refugee system isn't working properly." He added: "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." Besides his church congregation, a growing number of supporters have lined up behind the former KGB officer.

In Ottawa, nearly two dozen Liberal, Bloc Quebecois and New Democratic Party MPs have signed a letter to Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, saying Mr. Lennikov has never posed a threat to Canada and faces repercussions if he is forced to return to Russia.

Mr. Lennikov's MP, Peter Julian, who has backed the Lennikovs' bid to stay in Canada, said he's received dozens of calls of support for the family. Mr. Julian said federal authorities have never provided a satisfactory answer as to why they're bent on sending Mr. Lennikov home.

Neither Mr. Kenney nor Mr. Van Loan would agree to be interviewed on the Lennikov case.

In an e-mail, Mr. Van Loan wrote: "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." Mr. Van Loan would not say what he meant by "security grounds," but in a follow-up e-mail, a press aide to the minister cited a section of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act that states that a person can be ruled inadmissible on security grounds for being a member of an agency that conducts espionage against Canada or other countries.

Mr. Lennikov isn't the first would-be immigrant to seek sanctuary behind the walls of a religious institution. Nearly two years ago, Vancouver construction worker Laibar Singh entered a Sikh temple just hours before his scheduled deportation to India. Mr. Singh, a quadriplegic, spent months in the temple but eventually decided to return to India.

On Monday, Mr. Lennikov lost a last-ditch bid to stay in Canada when a Federal Court judge rejected a plea to allow him to stay on compassionate and humanitarian grounds.


PUBLICATION: National Post
DATE: 2009.06.03
EDITION: All But Toronto
BYLINE: Neal Hall
DUPLICATES: Vancouver Sun,

Former KGB agent takes sanctuary in B. C. church; Ordered Deported

VANCOUVER - A Vancouver church granted sanctuary yesterday 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," explained 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," the pastor said.

Mr. 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 this morning after a Federal Court judge rejected Mr. 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.

Mr. 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.

Mr. 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, Mr. 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 on Monday, dismissed the stay application.

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

Justice 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 Mr. 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.

Mr. Lennikov and his family went to Ottawa last week to plead to 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."

Mr. 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."

Federal lawyer Banafsheh Sokhansanj argued that Mr. Lennikov played down 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.

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.

Meanwhile, 23 Members of Parliament co-signed a letter yesterday to Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney and Mr. 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.


PUBLICATION: The Toronto Star
DATE: 2009.06.03
BYLINE: Petti Fong Bruce Campion-Smith

Ex-KGB agent finds refuge in church; Federal court's refusal to stay deportation angers congregation

The normally staid members of First Lutheran Church in Vancouver are furious.

It's a reaction Rev. Richard Hergesheimer has never seen before among his 225 congregants, including the elderly women who have been writing letters to politicians for the first time in their lives in support of a former KGB agent who is a member of their congregation.

"This has made people very angry. Angry at what they see is an injustice," said Hergesheimer.

Former Russian KGB agent Mikhail Lennikov took refuge in the church yesterday to avoid his scheduled deportation today from Canada to post-Soviet Russia. On Monday, the Federal Court refused a last-ditch appeal to stay the deportation.

Lennikov, 48, and his teenage son and wife Irina have been in Canada for 12 years. Irina Lennikov and Dmitri, 17, may yet be allowed to stay in Canada but because Lennikov worked for the now-defunct intelligence agency in the 1980s, the Canadian government has ruled he is a security risk.

Lennikov says his life is at risk if he's forced to return to his native Russia. His former colleagues have told him they consider him a traitor, he says. The family flew to Ottawa last week in an effort to speak to Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, who refused to meet them. Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan has also refused to step in to help the family.

All three had originally been ordered deported in January but Irina and Dmitri were granted a reprieve. Lennikov was given a short reprieve to see his son graduate last week from high school.

"I know I will never see my family again if I'm deported," said Lennikov as he paced in his basement room at the church.

Lennikov arrived in Vancouver in 1997 on a student visa and received a master's degree in Japanese literature at UBC. Two years later, he applied for permanent residence.

On Parliament Hill, opposition MPs rallied to defend Lennikov.

"It's ideology that this government is pursuing. ... I don't believe simply belonging to the KGB is a threat to the country today," said Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh.

NDP MP Peter Julian urged the government to show compassion, saying that Lennikov worked for the KGB in an administrative role. He gathered intelligence on Japanese visitors and students but said he was recruited against his will to work for the secretive police force.

But Van Loan said immigration laws clearly state people involved in espionage "are not admissible to Canada."

PUBLICATION: Waterloo Region Record
DATE: 2009.06.03
SOURCE: The Canadian Press
DUPLICATES: The Calgary Sun, The London Free Press, The Chronicle-Herald, The Daily News (Truro), Cape Breton Post, The Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal

Former KGB employee seeks asylum in B.C. church

A former KGB employee facing deportation from Canada will take refuge in a Vancouver church to avoid being sent back to post-Soviet Russia.

Mikhail Lennikov has been offered sanctuary at the First Lutheran Church in Vancouver to avoid being deported today.

Neither Lennikov nor church officials were immediately available for comment but New Democrat MP Peter Julian, who has been lobbying for his constituent to be able to remain in Canada, confirmed the sanctuary offer.

Julian said such sanctuary, which he called a "fancy name for a prison,'' is no solution for the Burnaby, B.C., man.

"It means that Mr. Lennikov will have this awful choice of being in prison in Canada, essentially, only able to see his family, not able to work, not able to provide for his family, not able to have any of the normal family activities that families have, or deportation where he's completely cut off from his family.''

And he said there is no guarantee that immigration officials will respect the sanctuary of the church and not come in and arrest him.

Nearly two dozen Liberal, Bloc Québécois and New Democrat MPs signed a letter sent to Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney yesterday, appealing for the minister to stop the deportation.

The letter said the penalties he faces if he returns to Russia are "extremely worrisome.''

"We're asking the minister to exercise the powers that he has under the Immigration Act to allow Mr. Lennikov to stay,'' Julian said in an interview from Ottawa.

"With the stroke of a pen the minister can bring this horrible situation to an end and allow the family to remain together.''

Lennikov was granted a permit to study in Canada in July 1997. He and his wife, Irina Lennikova, along with his son, Dmitri, arrived that September.

In 1999, Lennikov's application for permanent residence was refused, and in 2002 he was informed by immigration officials that there were reasonable grounds to believe he may have engaged in acts of espionage or subversion against a democratic government during his tenure at the Soviet spy agency.

In July 2004, a Canada Border Services Agency report found Lennikov was inadmissible to Canada because of his KGB past, and in 2006 an Immigration and Refugee Board found him inadmissible. He was ordered deported. He's since been refused a three-year resident permit and an exemption based on the risk he could face upon his return to Russia.

Lennikov's wife and teenaged son may yet be able to remain on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, but the federal immigration minister has refused his appeal.

On Monday, the Federal Court refused to stay his deportation pending a judicial review of the federal minister's decision.

Lennikov has said he was up front about his past at the Soviet spy agency.