Canada reverses course after blocking Russian anti-war activist’s citizenship

Canada reverses course after blocking Russian anti-war activist’s citizenship

Canada has reversed course after initially blocking a Russian anti-war activist from receiving citizenship because she had run afoul of Moscow’s harsh laws criminalizing dissent over the invasion of Ukraine.

Maria Kartasheva’s plight had baffled immigration lawyers and exposed the confusing reality of Canada’s immigration bureaucracy. Last year, the 30-year-old was charged and convicted by Russian prosecutors of violating a law barring criticism of the military. And even though her opinions mirrored Canada’s foreign policy, the conviction threatened to derail her application for Canadian citizenship.

“I’m being punished for writing what Canada believes is the truth about Russia’s actions,” she said.

On Tuesday morning, Kartasheva received a telephone call from Canada’s immigration department, inviting her to attend a citizenship ceremony later that day. She told the Guardian she felt “anxious” about the apparent breakthrough in her case.

Hours later, the immigration minister, Marc Miller, posted a link to the Guardian’s reporting on the case, and said that “citizenship eligibility rules are designed to catch criminals, not to suppress or punish legitimate political dissent”. He said Kartasheva would not face deportation and had been invited to become a Canadian citizen.

Kartasheva, founder of the Russian Canadian Democratic Alliance, fled her homeland in 2019 amid concern over Vladimir Putin’s growing crackdown on dissent. In 2022, while living in Ottawa, she learned that two of her blogposts about a massacre in the Ukrainian town of Bucha by Russian troops had caught the attention of officials in Moscow.

She was charged in absentia with disseminating “deliberately false information” about Russian forces. She was convicted and sentenced to eight years in jail.

Since Russia’s invasion in 2022, Canada has been a vocal supporter of Ukraine, pledging billions in aid and hosting President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Justin Trudeau’s government has been deeply critical of the Russian state, sanctioning many officials – including the judge who oversaw Kartasheva’s arrest in absentia.

Kartasheva, who had applied for citizenship, notified Canadian officials about the conviction. Under Canadian immigration law, if an applicant is charged with a crime in another country that has an equivalent under Canada’s criminal code, the application can be refused.

Still, she was sent an invitation to her virtual citizenship ceremony. Moments before the ceremony, largely as a formality, applicants are asked if they have been criminally charged.

“I figured they were familiar with my case because I had sent all of the documentation, and the explanation [was] that the law was a political one used to persecute those who speak out against the government,” she said. “So I said I had been charged and convicted in Russia.”

Kartasheva was then told by officials her answer meant she could not attend the ceremony. She was left “heartbroken” but was able to watch her husband receive his citizenship.

In December, Canadian officials told her in a letter that her conviction in Russia aligned with a criminal code offence relating to spreading false information. A case officer cited subsection 372(1) of the criminal code, which prohibits people from “convey[ing] information that they know is false, or causes such information to be conveyed by letter or any means of telecommunication”.

The rarely used 1985 statute carries a maximum sentence of two years behind bars.

“Based on the information currently available to me, it appears that you may be subject to prohibitions under the Citizenship Act,” the letter said.

Kartasheva’s case, first reported by the CBC, seemed caught in an absurd administrative tangle.

The University of Toronto law professor Audrey Macklin said the case appeared to be the result of an “over-zealous” citizenship officer.

As a result of the decision, Kartasheva said she worried she could face the risk of deportation back to Russia. “I know the odds are low, but so many things have gone wrong. How could I not worry that I might be deported?”

“This feels like a surreal comedy, one in which everything goes wrong. But the problem is this is my life,” she said.

The Conservative MP Tom Kmiec told the Canadian Press: “There is no law in Canada that says you cannot criticize our military, can’t criticize politicians, can’t criticize our government – that’s part of living in a democracy.”

Canada’s immigration department said it had previously “carefully examined” Kartasheva’s case.

“Individuals involved would be offered an opportunity to explain what transpired and provide any other information related to the charge or conviction, and the officer would take that information into account when making their decision. [The Canadian immigration department] is committed to upholding the integrity of all our immigration and citizenship programs,” the department said. “Until a final determination is made, cases are subject to review.”

Kartasheva said: “I’m troubled, because there’s no transparency to any of this. I’ve sent them everything I can, but I don’t even know if they’ve read it. Do they care? Or will I end up in prison because of bureaucracy?”

Source link