Patriotism vs. freedom and democracy

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Vladimir Putin with forward of the Russian national ice hockey team Nikolai Kulemin during the award ceremony held in the Grand Kremlin Palace on May 27, 2014 (

Political aspects of a hockey player’s immigration case

The National Post’s article of October 25, 2018, with a quote of Nikolay Kulemin’s affidavit for his immigration case hearing in the Federal Court of Canada, stating his desire to live and raise his children “in a free and democratic country,” has provoked a major discontent in Russian media as well as in the ranks of Kulemin’s colleagues and fans.

Since the substance of Kulemin’s intentions together with the above-mentioned phrase were spread by Russian-language sources, the ice hockey player received a number of negative comments via his official Instagram account. He was claimed to be a “betrayer,” but for all that, people recalled his loyalty to the Russian President Vladimir Putin. In turn, several top-ranking Russian players supported Nikolay Kulemin’s citizenship application in Canada. In particular, Evgeni Malkin, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ centre and alternate captain, stated in his interview to Sport-Express that Kulemin’s situation had been over exaggerated. “Patriotism… is when he is called to play for a national team, he plays not for Canada but for Russia,” said the NHL player. According to Nikolay Kulemin himself, cited by, the crucial phrase about freedom and democracy for his children in Canada “looks like a gag.” He assures that his reasoning to get the Canadian citizenship is to be able to join his children, born and raised in North America, if they decide one day to relocate back to Canada. At the same time, Nikolay Kulemin doesn’t want to hide the fact that his family likes Canada, and that they have property in this country.

Nikolay Kulemin, a 32-year-old Russian ice hockey player, joined the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2008 and stayed with the team till 2014. Both his children were born in Toronto, ON, and were granted Canadian citizenship by birth. Nikolay and his wife Natalia filed for Canadian citizenship in December 2014 after the Russian player had signed a contract with the New York Islanders earlier in June. On November 29, 2017, their cases were rejected by a Citizenship Judge as not meeting the residency requirement. In particular, it was noted that the Kulemins didn’t spent enough time in Canada (623 out of the requisite 1095 days in Nikolay’s case; and 776 days in the case of his wife) and didn’t establish proper connections with the country. As marked in the ruling, “the Applicants centralized their mode of living wherever Mr. Kulemin’s hockey career took them.” The family challenged this decision in the Federal Court of Canada, with a hearing taking place on August 27, 2018. As stated in the final decision of September 27, 2018, their citizenship applications “shall be remitted to a different decision-maker for determination.” It is concluded that “while the Applicants’ absences from Canada are significant, the issue for the decision maker will be whether these absences can be excused when the qualitative test for residency is applied and all the evidence is considered.” At the moment, Nikolay Kulemin, together with his family, resides in Russia where he plays for Magnitogorsk.

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