Federal Court opens door for former KGB employee to rejoin family in Canada

Mikhail Lennikov (CP).

VANCOUVER — The federal Liberal government may be setting a new tone within the immigration department, clearing a path to reunite a former Russian KGB translator with his family in Canada, says his lawyer.

Mikhail Lennikov, 55, voluntarily left six years of church sanctuary in Vancouver just months before a Federal Court overturned his failed application for permanent residence on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

The court decision, publicly released on Dec. 22, directs the application be reviewed by a different immigration officer.

His lawyer, Hadayt Nazami, said he hopes the order will be returned in Lennikov's favour now that the political climate has shifted with the replacement of the Conservative government.

"Basically all the doors were shut, completely shut. And now you can see a door opening slightly and that's significant," Nazami said of the decision.

He said if there are no "systemic biases" or an "invisible will" to influence the decision, then there's no reason immigration officers should feel prevented from deciding his client's case.  

Lennikov claimed refuge in Vancouver's First Lutheran Church in June 2009, but departed on his own accord last August after negotiations with the Canada Border Services Agency.

He left behind his wife and adult son, who are now Canadian citizens, after the isolation likely became unbearable, Nazami said.

"It's extra difficult for someone like him when he knows that the entire system is against him — it was at the time," he said.

"When you're already pressed down so hard, it's not easy to stay positive forever."

Lennikov was ordered deported in May 2006, based on accusations he had worked as a spy for the notorious Soviet security service. But expert evidence in immigration hearings later found he was coerced into his five years of KGB employment — and that his work never involved espionage.

The recent Federal Court ruling was the first positive judicial decision for Lennikov in a series of legal challenges to stay in Canada, said Nazami. The man had initially moved to British Columbia on a student visa in September 1997.

Judge Elizabeth Heneghan granted the judicial review after determining that the immigration officer who denied Lennikov's permanent residence application had erred. She found the officer had analyzed Lennikov's inadmissability after an early decision had already made a determination on the issue.

But Heneghan went further than was required in her ruling, raising concerns with how the officer dealt with other elements of the humanitarian and compassionate application.

"I refer to the treatment of the applicant's affidavit, the consideration of the effect of the applicant claiming sanctuary and the effect of a potential separation on the applicant's wife," Heneghan wrote.

It's unclear how long Lennikov could wait before a new decision on his case is made.

Nazami said he believes his client is currently teaching English in Russia.

If a decision is made in Lennikov's favour, he plans to return to Canada, Nazami said.

The lawyer hopes the case is decided quickly, and pointed to the recent and sudden decision on another long-outstanding case by the new government.

Immigration Minister John McCallum granted ministerial relief on Dec. 21 to Jose Figueroa, who had been living in sanctuary in a church in Langley, B.C., to avoid deportation.

Figueroa, a Salvadoran who had lived with his family in Canada for 18 years, was granted an exemption to remain on humanitarian and compassionate grounds after living in the church for two years.

"The tone the minister sets ... it's actually very carefully observed by the decision-makers. They make decisions for him and on his behalf," Nazami said.

"The staff and immigration officers have not changed, but the minister has changed. At least we know no one will get into trouble if they make a positive decision."

Lennikov also asked for the minister to grant him relief, allowing him to stay in Canada. He's been waiting for that decision for four years.

Tamsyn Burgmann, The Canadian Press

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