A former Liberal MP for the riding of Vancouver-South is welcoming the news that a former constituent now living in Russia will get a chance to return to the Lower Mainland to be with his family.
Ujjal Dosanjh, who served as MP for the riding from 2004 to 2011, advocated that former KGB agent Mikhail Lennikov be allowed to remain in Canada, despite a deportation order issued from the federal government in 2009.
“I believe he should have never been forced to leave because he lived here for so long as a peaceful, productive citizen,” said Dosanjh, who was among more than 30 Liberal and NDP MPs in 2011 calling for a halt to Lennikov’s deportation.
A recent decision by the Federal Court of Canada allows Lennikov to have his application for permanent residence reviewed again by Citizenship and Immigration Canada. Lennikov’s application is based on allowing him residency on humanitarian and compassionate grounds — a request he made under the previous government, only to be rejected and publicly denounced by Conservative ministers of immigration.
Lennikov, 55, voluntarily returned to Russia last summer after living for six years in the First Lutheran Church at 41st and Wales, a place he sought sanctuary in June 2009 to avoid deportation.
Since he left, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government won the federal election and now hold the majority of seats in Ottawa. The new government’s position on applications related to humanitarian and compassionate grounds appears to be in contrast to the Conservatives — at least in the case of Jose Figueroa, who sought sanctuary in a Langley church for more than two years after he faced deportation for his political activism in a revolutionary movement in his homeland of El Salvador.
Canada’s new immigration minister, John McCallum, granted Figueroa an exemption in December to remain here based on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
“I hope that this government, regardless of what the decision might be of the reviewing officer, allows Mr. Lennikov to come into the country on a minister’s permit,” said Dosanjh, noting McCallum has the power to grant Lennikov an exemption. “And I would urge him to do so.”
Asked why he thought Lennikov left in the summer, knowing there was a chance a new government would be in Ottawa by the fall, Dosanjh said Lennikov could have received some advice that his case would be looked upon more favorably if he voluntarily returned to Russia.
“Sometimes, that’s the advice people give you,” Dosanjh said. “I thought he may have just gotten fed up with living inside a building 24/7 and said to himself that he would just take his chances.”
In May 2006, the Immigration and Refugee Board found Lennikov inadmissible to Canada because he was a member of an organization — the KGB — that engaged in espionage against a democratic government. Lennikov and his lawyers launched several court challenges but failed to overturn the ruling.
Lennikov first came to Canada in 1997 to complete a master’s degree at the University of B.C. He has always denied he was a spy and no threat to Canada because his five years in the KGB amounted to little more than work as a clerk and interpreter. He lived in Burnaby and once worked in the electronics department in the former Sears store downtown before seeking sanctuary.
Lawyer Hadayt Nazami, acting on behalf of Lennikov, said his client was happy with the court’s decision. Nazami wouldn’t say which city Lennikov is residing in Russia but said he found a job teaching English.
Lennikov told the Courier in previous interviews that he feared he would be persecuted upon his return to Russia. Asked whether that had happened, Nazami said it’s not a conversation he’s had with Lennikov.
Nazami said he didn’t know when a final decision would be made on Lennikov’s case. Lennikov’s wife and son were granted permanent residency in 2011, but the Courier was unable to reach them before deadline.