Two B.C. NDP members of Parliament are under fire for breaking bread with a former KGB agent who has been fighting deportation by living in a Vancouver church basement for the past three years.
Don Davies, who represents Vancouver Kingsway, and Peter Julian, MP for Burnaby—New Westminster, co-hosted a Thanksgiving potluck dinner with the family of Mikhail Lennikov on Oct. 8. Davies said about 70 people attended the meal.
On Tuesday, Conservative MP Ted Opitz condemned the NDP members' support of "an infamous KGB veteran residing illegally in Canada."
"Lennikov is a captain in the Soviet Union's secret police, an organization that suppressed millions during one of history's darkest periods. He entered Canada illegally, his asylum claim was rejected by the Immigration and Refugee Board and his appeal was rejected by a Federal Court judge," said Opitz, who represents Etobicoke Centre in Ontario, in the House of Commons.
"By celebrating this KGB agent, an illegal immigrant, these two members of the opposition are making a mockery of not only the suffering of millions, including members of my own family, but of the rule of law in Canada."
Lennikov arrived in Canada from Russia on a student visa in 1997. After finishing his masters degree, Lennikov, his wife Irinia and son Dmitri applied for permanent resident status.
That's when Lennikov willingly told officials that he was a “low-level officer in the KGB,” where he acted more or less like an interpretor, said Davies.
"There was no attempt to mislead or hide anything. They didn't come into the country illegally, that is a falsehood. They came in perfectly legally and they disclosed everything,” Davies told The Huffington Post.
While Lennikov's family were given status on humanitarian grounds, he was ordered deported because his past association with the KGB — a foreign body which spied on democracies — deems him inadmissible. The immigration minister has the power to admit someone if he or she is not considered a national threat.
Lennikov took refuge at the First Lutheran Church, where he's been living in the basement since June 2009. Davies, who is a lawyer and former immigration critic, says the man's safety is at risk if he's sent back to Russia.
The Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association, which has lobbied the government to remove Lennikov from the church sanctuary, also blasted the NDP MPs for dining with "a fugitive who is openly flaunting the rule of law in this country," reported Burnaby Now.
Davies believes members of the Ukrainian community are making the former KGB member's case a "symbol in their historic grievances against the Soviet Union." He calls that unjust.
"These are some of the finest people I've ever met and exactly the kinds of people that Canadians should be inviting into this country: educated, literate, intelligent, English-speaking, multilingual, law-abiding, church-going people. I'd be proud to have them as my neighbours and so would anybody in this country," Davies said.
"What Mr. Opitz did today is the kind of political slurring that is characteristic of McCarthyism in the United States, not in keeping with Canadian values."
With files from Althia Raj in Ottawa