A Russian scientist seeking asylum in Canada has been scheduled to be deported Dec. 3.
Elena Musikhina, 54, and her husband Mikhail, 60, fear they will be arrested as soon as they land in Moscow, said their daughter, Olesia Sunatori, who lives in Gatineau.
“I know for sure once they are in Moscow, I won’t see them again. I am sure they will be handed over to the Russian security when they land,” said Sunatori. “I don’t know why the government doesn’t understand it.”
Musikhina claims she has data she collected in her hometown of Irkutsk, a Siberian city of about 600,000, that points to grave environmental repercussions related to industrial and military activity around Lake Baikal and its ecosystem. Others who knew about these dangers have died under violent and mysterious circumstances, she says.
In her submission to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Musikhina said she was called before the vice-rector of the Irkutsk State Technical University, where she was a professor, in September 2015. She said she was warned that authorities planned to accuse her under the Russian criminal code for her political activities. They fled to St. Petersburg and left Russia in October 2015, settling in Gatineau soon after.
Musikhina said since she has been in Canada, she has protested in front of the Russian embassy in Ottawa.
The Immigration and Refugee Board turned down the couple’s application for refugee protection in June 2016, concluding that Musikhina had documented work-related problems at the university, but that the couple had not demonstrated that they were in serious danger of prosecution under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. The fact they left Russia unhindered “diminishes their credibility on regards to whether the authorities were seeking them,” the tribunal concluded.
But Musikhina argues it was pure luck that she and Mikhail still had their external passports after their internal passports were seized, allowing them to leave Russia.
“It was a miracle that they were able to escape,” said Sunatori, who acts as an interpreter for her mother. “The bureaucracy did not have time to realize they were leaving.”
An appeal of the board’s decision failed. In July, the Federal Court declined Musikhina’s request for a leave for judicial review of the rejected claim. The couple were told to be prepared for deportation last month and a plane ticket to Moscow was issued to them this week.
In a statement, the Canadian Border Services Agency said the decision to remove someone from Canada is not taken lightly. “The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act states that removal orders must be enforced as soon as possible. The CBSA is firmly committed to doing so,” said the statement. “Everyone ordered removed from Canada is entitled to due process before the law and all removal orders are subject to various levels of appeal. However, once all legal avenues of appeal/due process are exhausted, they are expected to leave Canada or be removed.”
Some 6,149 people have been deported from Canada in 2018, including 10 Russians, as of Oct. 25. Since 2013, 59,600 people have been deported, including 209 Russians.
The CBSA said it does not comment on individual cases.
The couple’s supporters include former MP David Kilgour and Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party of Canada, who have continued to to press Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale and Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Ahmed Hussen for intervention in the case.
“The key point is that the couple is caught in a sometimes flawed system,” said Kilgour. “We are doing the government a favour by seeking to prevent a potentially disastrous result.”
Immigration lawyer Joshua Blum said he plans to ask the government early next week to defer the couple’s removal in order to conduct a “pre-removal risk assessment.”
If the deferral is granted by CBSA, it would allow the government to consider evidence that supports the refugee claim that has never been reviewed before, he said. In this case, the risk assessment will include the “profile” that Musikhina has as an opponent of the Russian government, including the media interviews she gave in Canada that indicate her opposition to the Putin government and allegations of environmental damage in Siberia.
Blum is optimistic that a review will find the evidence compelling. In the past few weeks, there has been national media attention that referred to Musikhina as a Putin critic.
“There is no question that she’s at risk of harm if she returns,” he said.
“When someone with a refugee case this strong comes to this point, it shows that something has gone seriously wrong. Rarely do you see a stronger refugee claim than this.”
Sunatori said she’s concerned about the media attention her parents have received in Canada if they return to Russia.
“We knew what we were doing when we decided to go public. Now it’s even more dangerous.”
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