Women who criticize the Kremlin could be barred from obtaining Canadian citizenship because they would have to prove to immigration authorities that criticizing the Russian military is not a crime in Canada.
Maria Kartasheva, who has lived in Ottawa since 2019, was found guilty under a Russian law passed shortly after the invasion of Ukraine that prohibits “deliberately disseminating false information publicly regarding the use of the Russian Federation’s armed forces.” received.
Kartasheva said she was surprised that Russian prosecutors pursued her over two blog posts she wrote while living in Ontario.
But the most shocking moment for the 30-year-old was last spring, when a Canadian priest motioned for her to leave during her citizenship ceremony, just before she took the oath of allegiance to the king. Ta.
“I felt betrayed because I thought I was safe here in Canada,” said Kartasheva, who works as an engineer in the capital.
Under Canada’s immigration rules, if an applicant is charged in another country with a crime that can be prosecuted under Canadian criminal law, the application may be canceled or refused.
A December letter from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) said the crimes she committed in Russia “constitute false information under section 372(1) of the Criminal Code of Canada.”
A Canadian law enacted in 1985 makes it illegal for an individual to intentionally harm another person or communicate false information through any means of telecommunications.
Historically, it has been invoked to deal with cases such as a person spreading false rumors or evidence about a spouse’s infidelity. The maximum penalty is two years in prison.
“Based on currently available information, it appears that you may be subject to a ban under the Citizenship Act,” the IRCC letter, signed by Montreal’s civil rights officer, said.
Officials gave Kartasheva 30 days to explain.
Ms. Kartasheva said she was perplexed that anyone could interpret her eight-year prison sentence in Russia as some sort of moral or legal agreement.
“This is a normal country,” she said of Canada. ”[You would think] No one would think I was a criminal for opposing the war, but they would. To me, it makes no sense at all. ”
Jacqueline Bonisteel, an Ottawa-based immigration lawyer, said the IRCC process is intended to weed out applicants who are ineligible due to criminal history, but that principle was being applied incorrectly in this case. He said he felt it.
“It’s relatively clear that this has no equivalent provision in Canadian criminal law,” said Bonisteel, a lawyer with Corporate Immigration Law.
Blog post led to conviction
Kartasheva’s conviction stems from two blog entries posted in March 2022 in which she posted photos and wrote in Russian expressing horror. Bucha massacre.
“Please tell me that before the Russian army came there, all these people were alive and riding their bikes. Why does it bother me that there were bikes everywhere and dead people riding them?” I don’t know if it took root that deep.Apparently they were meant to go somewhere else,” reads a translation of one of the posts.
Russia’s foreign minister denied allegations of atrocities in Bucha.
Kartasheva said the arrest in absentia was approved by the government. Russian judge Elena Lenskayathen tried Moscow Basmany District Court Both remain subject to Canadian sanctions for human rights violations.
She said her Russian lawyer was unable to provide a defense and she was sentenced to eight years in a Russian prison in November this year.
Kartasheva learned of the charges in late 2022 and learned of her arrest in April 2023. Although she was applying through Canada’s formal citizenship system, she decided to immediately report the alien charges to IRCC.
A few days later in May, she received an invitation to a citizenship ceremony, so she thought the Canadian government understood her situation. But just as she was about to take her citizenship oath, the host asked the room a routine question about whether anyone was facing criminal charges.
Kartasheva raised her hand and was asked to step aside.
She never swore an oath.
“We know that Canada does not support the war. We know that we agree that Russia is silencing people who oppose the war. This is an obvious situation, and we know that Canada does not support the war. I thought everything should not have happened,” Kartasheva said.
In addition to blogging, Kartasheva has participated in anti-war activities, including protests at the Russian embassy in Ottawa and co-founding a group called the Russian-Canadian Democratic Alliance.
“The worst-case scenario is being deported to Russia,” she said.
Matthew Wright, an associate professor of criminology and European studies at the University of Toronto, said Russia’s disinformation laws have been cited in Western media as an influence on prominent opposition politicians and journalists.
“The term is often used on a much larger scale against lesser-known members of Russian society who have spoken out against the war, and in less political contexts,” Wright said. There are many,” he said.
In that case, the punishment could be a fine, but Wright said Kartasheva’s eight-year prison sentence shows whether the Russian government is taking her case seriously or is trying to tighten its grip on Russians abroad. This suggests that it may be part of a larger trend.
“It seems like they want her to be a lesson to others. I don’t think they expect her to be returned to Russian custody, but I think they want her to be a lesson to others. It’s very possible,” Wright said.
Wright said if Kartasheva has to return to Russia, she could face additional prison terms, harsher conditions as a political prisoner and continued monitoring after her release.
“We can assume that as long as Putin’s government remains in power, that will not be possible. [her] “It’s about living a normal life in Russia,” Wright said.
“This is a terrible error and we hope it will be resolved as soon as possible.” [her] Upvote now. ”
Immunity for political dissidents
Bonisteel said IRCC routinely circumvents criminal equivalency requirements to allow applicants to escape political persecution in their home countries.
“This often comes up in refugee cases and political dissident cases,” Bonisteel said.
“As long as they can prove that this is a trumped-up, politicized charge and that there is no equivalent treatment in Canada, they will be able to get a spot here.”
Ms. Bonisteel said she had never seen this kind of issue raised in the normal course of civil rights. He said part of the process is being responsible for explaining the background of legal issues to applicants, but IRCC may develop some policy to flag clear cases.
In a statement to CBC News, the IRCC said it is “carefully reviewing foreign convictions to determine whether the conduct would constitute a crime under Canadian law if it occurred in Canada.”
He said people being investigated for possible criminal activity by foreign nationals will be given an opportunity to explain their situation.
The ministry announced that it would review the documents Ms. Kartasheva sent in her case to determine the outcome of her citizenship application.
The Russian embassy in Ottawa did not respond to CBC’s inquiries.
morning in ottawa8:04She knew that her criticism of Russia would upset the Kremlin. She did not consider it to be a barrier to Canadian citizenship.