Elena and David Crenna arrive at a federal refugee board hearing in Montreal on Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018.
Allen McInnis / Montreal Gazette
The federal government has issued a deportation order against an Ottawa woman it alleged worked as a Russian “sex spy” in the 1990s, ruling she’s inadmissible to Canada on security grounds.Following hearings in Montreal in December, the immigration appeal division of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada issued its decision in late June. It found Elena Crenna, 57, engaged in “acts of espionage contrary to Canada’s interest” and is to be deported.Crenna, a Russian-born American citizen who’s been living with her Canadian husband in Ottawa since 2013, said her initial reaction to the ruling was to laugh at how unreasonable it seemed.“But then the shock set in,” Crenna said on Monday.“What threat am I presenting right now to Canadian security?” she asked. “I’m here quietly, walking my dog and being with my husband. That’s it. And all of a sudden I’m a danger to Canada’s democratic ideals?”The case against Crenna stems from her work as an interpreter during a Canadian housing project in Tver, a city northwest of Moscow. Then known as Elena Filatova, she was hired by her now-husband, David Crenna, who was coordinating the project.The project lasted from 1994 to 1996. Its purpose was to introduce Canadian housing technology — the construction of timber-frame houses — to the Russian market and provide work for former military personnel returning to the country following the collapse of the Soviet Union.David Crenna hired Elena as an interpreter but they soon began having an affair.Elena Crenna admits she met with an agent from the Federal Security Service (FSB), the security agency that succeeded Russia’s KGB, on a handful of occasions while working on the project. But she insists no confidential or classified information was ever shared, describing the agent’s questioning as “pedestrian” and “benign.”Part of the federal government’s argument stemmed from a 2008 book based on interviews with a former Russian spy, titled Comrade J, which despite not mentioning them by name, appears to explain the Crennas’ affair and insinuates Elena was “offered” to David while working as a “sex spy.”The couple has denied the book’s contents and the way it depicts their relationship. Asked during last year’s hearings if she became involved with David Crenna due to demands by the FSB, Elena laughed.“No,” she answered.“Did you have any particular motives, in terms of getting close to him quickly?”“Other than love?” she asked. “No.”The couple separated when the project ended but reconnected after the book was published. They married in California in 2012 and moved to Ottawa the next year. They then applied for a spousal sponsorship for Elena to become a permanent Canadian resident, but it’s been in limbo ever since.The IRB first ruled in Crenna’s favour in May 2018, finding the minister didn’t establish reasonable grounds to believe she participated in espionage. But the minister appealed the decision, leading to the recent ruling and deportation order.The decision, from IRB appeal division board member Annie Lafleur, focused on whether Crenna’s actions amounted to espionage that went against Canada’s interest.Though she agreed it’s probable the Comrade J book led to Crenna being identified by immigration authorities, Lafleur said she found the book to be unreliable and rejected the government’s assertion that Crenna “was used as a ‘sex spy’ by the FSB.”But Lafleur ruled Crenna did collect and transmit information to a Russian intelligence officer, acted “secretly or covertly” and collaborated “with the interests of the FSB and the Russian state.”“Some may consider (Crenna’s) acts to be harmless given the socio-political context in Russia more than two decades ago. Others will be sympathetic to (Crenna) and her husband; I am,” Lafleur wrote.The law, however, “must set benchmarks to preserve the integrity of its immigration system, guarantee Canada’s security and on a larger scale, protect Canada’s fundamental values.”Crenna’s lawyer, Arghavan Gerami, has filed an application for leave and judicial review to challenge the decision in Federal Court.“We believe there are strong reasons to challenge this decision, particularly in the interpretation of the definition of espionage,” Gerami said on Monday.The process can take well over a year, she added.While the legal challenge plays out, Crenna will likely be returning to live in San Francisco, where she has family.“It’s expensive and damaging to our relationship, but we’ll survive it and get through it,” said David Crenna, 75, adding he believes the government should be using its resources for better causes.“The bottom line is while they’re out chasing a total non-threat to Canada, they may be missing other things,” he email@example.comTwitter.com/jessefeithRelated