The Canada Border Services Agency continues to monitor two men residing in East Side churches after both were ordered deported from Canada in 2009. But the agency has no plans to arrest and remove them from the country.
Mikhail Lennikov, a former KGB agent, and Rodney Watson, a U.S. Iraq War veteran, are two of only three people living in a place of worship in Canada to avoid arrest from authorities; the third is Tigist Damte, a failed refugee claimant from Ethiopia residing in Ontario.
Lennikov lives at the First Lutheran Church at 41st and Wales and Watson at the First United Church on East Hastings, near Main.
“They are in violation of Canada’s immigration law and are in Canada illegally,” said Faith St. John, a spokesperson for the border services agency in an email to the Courier. “They have both had the benefit of many avenues of recourse and throughout all of these legal processes their removal orders were upheld and their status in Canada denied. Individuals who have exhausted due process are expected to respect our laws and leave Canada.”
When asked why the border services agency hadn’t removed the men, St. John said the agency prefers to negotiate with individuals who are not “an immediate risk to the community” and have them voluntarily surrender to authorities. She wouldn’t comment on whether that has occurred with Lennikov and Watson.
“The [agency] strives to ensure that the appropriate balance is struck between our obligation to enforce immigration laws in a fair, balanced and consistent manner while mitigating risks to individuals, officers and the general public,” she said, noting no deadline has been imposed on the two cases.
Lennikov marked his third anniversary last Saturday of living in the church. He sought sanctuary June 2, 2009 in First Lutheran and lives in the basement with his wife and son, who were last year granted permanent residency in Canada.
Six years ago, the Immigration and Refugee Board found Lennikov inadmissible to Canada because he was a member of an organization that engaged in espionage against a democratic government. The Federal Court of Canada upheld his removal order.
Lennikov, who first came to Canada in 1997 to complete a master’s degree at the University of B.C., has always denied he was a spy or inflicted harm on anyone. The Courier contacted Lennikov via email but he declined an interview.
Watson, who didn’t return a message from the Courier, fled to Canada in 2006 while on leave after serving in Iraq as a corporal in the U.S. army. He said he was told by superiors he would have to return to the battlefield in three months, which extended the service he originally agreed to when he enlisted.
Like several Iraq veterans before him, Watson filed a refugee claim that was rejected and he was ordered to leave Canada Sept. 11, 2009. A few days later, he sought sanctuary at First United, which is in the heart of the Downtown Eastside.
When he last spoke to the Courier in 2009, Watson had a one-year-old son with his fiancée, who lives in Vancouver.