Russian Immigrant on Trial for Espionage

Russian Immigrant on Trial for Espionage
Supreme Court of Canada building in Ottawa. Photo: OBERT MADONDO/The Canadian Progressive

Russian-born Elena Crenna has been given a fresh immigration hearing after being deported from Canada on espionage charges

Last June, the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada ruled that Elena had carried out espionage on behalf of Russia and against the interests of the Canadian government.

In 1994, Elena worked as a public relations specialist and interpreter for a housing construction project in Russia run by David Crenna, who would later become her husband. An agent from Russia’s security agency asked to interview her about her work, a fact which she immediately brought to the attention of David. With permission, Elena met with the agent seven times over the course of several years, and she alleges that she revealed no sensitive information to the Russian government.

After a romantic relationship that ended when David returned to Canada in 1996, the two reconnected again in 2008 and were married 4 years later. Elena moved to Canada in 2013 to live with David and filed an application to become a permanent resident, which was granted in 2018 by immigration officials. The government refutes Elena’s argument and claims that the nature of the information is irrelevant when it comes to espionage and demands that her permanent residency be revoked.

Federal Court Justice Henry Brown ruled on behalf of Elena to grant a new hearing because he was “unable to reasonably find any reason to believe [Elena] was engaged in anything secret, clandestine, surreptitious or covert in co-operating with the FSB as instructed”, according to Global News. Brown ruled that the Canadian immigration appeals division must rule on the case within six months due to the length of time that has already passed.

This case comes amid heightened tensions between Russia and Canada in Ukraine, the Arctic and in the cybersphere. Suspicions of Russian influence in Canadian and other elections have been rising over the past few years as well, with many officials accusing Russian intelligence of influencing both local and national election results using cyberwarfare, propaganda and fake grassroots movements. Similarly, Canadian allegations of Russian intelligence agents poisoning Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Britain led to the expulsions of Russian diplomats from Canada.

The outcome of this case is still in question, and it may influence more than just the citizenship status of Elena Crenna.

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