Judge sides with woman accused of spying for Russia, orders new hearing

Judge sides with woman accused of spying for Russia, orders new hearing

OTTAWA — A Russian-born woman who was barred from Canada for allegedly spying on behalf of Moscow will get another chance to argue her case.

In a newly released ruling, Federal Court Justice Henry Brown says Elena Crenna is entitled to a fresh immigration hearing.

Brown said he found no reason to believe Crenna, 58, was engaged in anything secret or covert, contrary to an immigration adjudicator’s decision last year.

The tale began in 1994 when Canadian David Crenna hired Elena Filatova — whom he would later marry — as an interpreter and public-relations representative on the wood-frame housing project in Tver, Russia.

An agent from the FSB, a Russian security agency, contacted her to ask questions about the project and David gave her permission to speak with him in the interest of being transparent and forthcoming.

Elena and the agent met a total of about seven times over a period of years.

In August 1994, David and Elena began a romantic relationship that ended when the housing project concluded in 1996. However, they reconnected in 2008 and were married four years later.

In the interim, Elena had moved to California to work as a nurse and she obtained U.S. citizenship in 2004. She came to Canada in September 2013 to live with David, applying for permanent residence under his sponsorship.

Following admissibility hearings, immigration officials gave her approval to stay in 2018. But the federal government successfully appealed the decision.

In its ruling last June, the appeal division of the Immigration and Refugee Board found Elena had “engaged in acts of espionage contrary to Canada’s interests” and issued a deportation order against her.

The government tried to refute Elena’s argument that her conversations with the Russian security agent were routine, saying the nature of the information is not relevant when it comes to espionage.

Her lawyer, Arghavan Gerami, argued during a March hearing in Federal Court that there was ”no credible evidence” to support the federal allegation she spied against Canada.

Rather, she assured the Russian security agent the housing project was a humanitarian effort aimed at helping the former Soviet Union, Gerami said.

In his ruling, Brown said Elena “did what she was instructed and obliged to do.”

“I am unable to reasonably find any reason to believe (she) was engaged in anything secret, clandestine, surreptitious or covert in co-operating with the FSB as instructed, and telling them what they asked.”

Brown said the immigration appeal division must revisit and decide the case within six months, given the time it has taken already.

Gerami said Monday she and the Crennas were “very pleased” with the ruling and appreciated the speed with which Brown delivered it.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 6, 2020.

Jim Bronskill , The Canadian Press

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