IN THE NEWS ~ Former KGB agent and family face deportation to Russia; Canadian government denies refugee claim

DATE: 2009.03.01
ILLUSTRATION: Colour Photo: Nick Procaylo, The Province / From left, sonDmitri, wife Irina and Mikhail Lennikov fear persecution in Russia. ;
BYLINE: Lena Sin

Former KGB agent and family face deportation to Russia; Canadian government denies refugee claim

After 11 years in B.C., a former KGB agent and his family have been told that their last-ditch attempt to stay in the country has failed.

The Canadian government told the Burnaby family last week that their refugee claim has been denied.

The denial came despite widespread publicity and public support for Mikhail Lennikov, his wife, Irina, and 17-year-old son, Dmitri.

"It's really difficult to describe [how we feel], it's near impossible. We still have some hope that the voice of Canadians who are concerned about what's being done to us eventually will be heard -- hopefully before deportation," said Lennikov.

The family were not given a date for deportation, but it could be as early as a few weeks from now.

Under Canadian immigration law, spies, or those who have engaged in subversive action against a democratic government, are not eligible for permanent resident status unless the public safety minister gives the OK.

Now that Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan has refused to grant ministerial relief, the family's lawyer is looking at what options they have.

The Lennikovs will likely apply for a stay of removal and seek a judicial review in federal court. They have also submitted an application for permanent residency based on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

Lennikov and his family moved to Canada in 1997. They were open about his past when they applied for permanent residency status. They fled Russia to avoid retribution from the KGB, said Lennikov, because he was considered a traitor for quitting the Soviet spy agency in 1988.

He has always maintained he was forced into joining the KGB.

During his five years with the KGB, Lennikov said he was mainly employed as a Japanese translator and was never trained as a high-ranking official, even though he was promoted to the rank of captain.

If the family returns to Russia, Lennikov is likely to face torture for his past links with the KGB.

But his greatest fears are for his son.

Dmitri has attended school in Burnaby since he was six years old and is currently a Grade 12 student at Byrne Creek Secondary.

If Dmitri is sent back to Russia, he will be subject to a compulsory draft into the armed forces and possible ill treatment because of his father's past involvement with the KGB. He will also be unable to attend post-secondary school in Russia because Dmitri is not fluent in Russian and is therefore unable to complete the necessary exams required for entry.

Students at Byrne Creek have been leading a campaign to keep the family in B.C, organizing rallies and letter-writing campaigns.

There is also a Facebook group called "Save Dmitri Lennikov and his family" with over 4,000 members.

Peter Julian, Burnaby-New Westminster MP, spoke in Parliament last month, urging the government to allow the family to stay in Canada.

Lennikov says he's been moved by the public support.

Lennikov graduated with a master's degree from the University of B.C. in 2002 and currently works for a software company.