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Decision to deny Maria Kartasheva citizenship must be reversed

Jan 8, 2024 | Editorials, Featured

Photo from Maria Kartasheva’s FB Page. Maria Kartasheva: Has criticizing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine become illegal in Canada?

Marco Levytsky, Editorial Writer

Editor’s Update: We are pleased to announce that one day after this editorial was posted on our website, Canadian Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Marc Miller said in a social media post that Kartasheva will not face deportation and has been invited to become a Canadian citizen. See: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/maria-kartasheva-russia-citizenship-conviction-canada-1.7078560

At first glance this seems unbelievable, but unfortunately it is true. On January 5, The Canadian Press, CBC News and other media outlets reported that federal officials are blocking a pro-democracy activist from Canadian citizenship because a Russian court convicted her for blog posts criticizing the Russian army and opposing Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.

The charges against 30-year-old Maria Kartasheva are related to two blog posts she wrote in March 2022 while living in Canada in which she expressed horror at Russian troops killing Ukrainians in the town of Bucha. Human Rights Watch researchers who worked in Bucha from April 4 to 10 that year, days after Russian forces withdrew from the area, found extensive evidence of summary executions, other unlawful killings, enforced disappearances, and torture, all of which would constitute war crimes and potential crimes against humanity.

“Nearly every corner in Bucha is now a crime scene, and it felt like death was everywhere,” said Richard Weir, crisis and conflict researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The evidence indicates that Russian forces occupying Bucha showed contempt and disregard for civilian life and the most fundamental principles of the laws of war.”
Under Canadian immigration rules, if an applicant is charged with a crime in another country that could be indictable under Canada's Criminal Code, their application can be revoked or refused. According to a letter from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), the crime she committed in Russia “would equate to false information under subsection 372(1) of the Criminal Code of Canada.” Originally enacted in 1985, the Canadian law makes it illegal for individuals to intentionally injure another person or convey false information through telecommunication means.

“Based on the information currently available to me, it appears that you may be subject to prohibitions under the Citizenship Act,” read the IRCC letter, which was signed by a citizenship officer in Montreal. Historically, this law has been invoked to address cases such as a person spreading untrue rumours or evidence about a cheating spouse. It carries a maximum sentence of two years behind bars.

What twisted logic led some bureaucrat to even consider her blogs to be “false information under subsection 372(1) of the Criminal Code of Canada”? And who is the individual that is supposedly injured under this “false information” – indicted war criminal Vladimir Putin? The atrocities committed in Bucha have been roundly condemned by democratic governments around the world. This includes Canada. Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly described the events in Bucha as “an abhorrent and senseless attack on innocent civilians”. Therefore, IRCC’s invocation of this particular law runs in direct contradiction to the official stand of the Government of Canada in relation to the horrendous acts of barbarism committed by Russian troops in Bucha. If one is to take the logic of the IRCC’s ludicrous interpretation of subsection 372(1) of the Criminal Code of Canada at face value, then Joly herself is guilty of spreading false information.

This also flies in the face of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which, under Section 2(b) guarantees “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication”. Exceptions are such items as incitement to violence, hate speech and slander/libel, none of which are applicable in this case.
Maria Kartasheva left Russia in 2019 because of rising oppression, and is now a tech worker in Ottawa. She co-founded a grassroots activist group for democracy in Russia and says she fears being deported to a Russian prison after IRCC pulled her out of her citizenship ceremony last June and told her it needs to determine if the Russian charges are also a crime in Canada.
“There are a lot of people in Russia who oppose this war, and most of them are scared to speak up because of situations like mine,” Kartasheva said in an interview with CBC January 5.

Her arrest in absentia was approved by Russian judge Elena Lenskaya, then tried in the Basmanny District Court of Moscow — both of which are still subject to Canadian sanctions for human rights violations. Not only does she face prison if deported but possible torture and death as well.

Jacqueline Bonisteel, an Ottawa-based immigration lawyer, says IRCC regularly bypasses the criminal equivalency requirement to help applicants flee political persecution in their home countries. “This comes up often with refugee cases and political dissidents… So long as they can establish this is a trumped up, politicized charge that has no equivalency in Canada, then they're going to be able to get their status here.”

This is most definitely a case of a “trumped up, politicized charge that has no equivalency in Canada” and there is no question that the decision to block her from citizenship has no substantiation and should immediately be reversed.

However, Immigration Minister Marc Miller's office would not say whether he plans to intervene. “We wouldn't have comment on specific cases as matters of privacy,” a spokeswoman said in an email to the Canadian Press.

That’s totally unacceptable as the action Minister Miller should take is crystal clear. If ever there was a case which so obviously flies in the face of Canadian legal principles and democratic values, this is it. What makes this even worse is that the IRCC decision legitimizes a law aimed at stifling dissent in a fascist dictatorship that deserves to be recognized as a terrorist state.

Minister Miller therefore has no choice but to do the right thing — reverse this abominable decision and grant Maria Kartasheva the citizenship she most rightfully deserves.

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