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Russian who worked on Canadian-led project was no spy, lawyer tells court


OTTAWA — There is "no credible evidence" to support the federal allegation Elena Crenna spied against Canada on behalf of Moscow, the woman's lawyer told a judge Wednesday.

On the contrary, Crenna assured a Russian security agent that a Canadian-led housing project was a humanitarian effort aimed at helping the former Soviet Union, lawyer Arghavan Gerami said during a Federal Court hearing.

"She told the agent the Canadians were doing a good thing," Gerami said.

The Russian-born Crenna, 58, is asking the court to reverse an immigration adjudicator's decision to bar her from Canada over events that unfolded a quarter-century ago.

After listening to arguments from Gerami and federal lawyer Susanne Wladysiuk, Justice Henry Brown indicated Wednesday he would rule on the matter soon, meaning a decision could come as early as this spring.

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.

Elena did not solicit details about the Tver project from anyone so she could pass them to the agent, Gerami said Wednesday.

"She did not have access to secret information, nor was any secret information gathered or shared with the FSB," Gerami said.

"Mrs. Crenna did not spy against Canada. There was simply no credible evidence to support these allegations."

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 dismisses Elena's argument that her conversations with the Russian security agent were routine and humdrum, saying the nature of the information is not relevant when it comes to espionage.

Brown also played down the idea, saying the material "could have been very important" to the Russians.

However, the judge appeared to have difficulty understanding Wladysiuk's argument that Elena should be turned away from Canada even though she disclosed to David, her employer, that she was speaking with the agent.

"I see a problem with that. Help me with it," Brown said.

Wladysiuk suggested that Elena could have told David she would simply refuse to meet with the FSB.

Gerami rejected the notion Elena had a choice. "Mrs. Crenna did the only thing that she could do. That, in itself, doesn't make her a spy."

David, 75, sat attentively through the hearing without his wife.

For now, Elena has voluntarily left Canada for the United States to avoid the stress and embarrassment of being forcibly removed, Gerami said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 11, 2020.

Jim Bronskill , The Canadian Press

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