Calls for Canada to expedite Snowden-linked asylum cases grow as first refugees arrive
CTVnews.ca's Nicole Bogart, with files from CTV News' Montreal Bureau Chief Genevieve Beauchemin
Published Tuesday, March 26, 2019 9:36AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, March 26, 2019 11:29PM EDT
The Canadian government is facing increased pressure to grant asylum to those who helped shelter Edward Snowden in Hong Kong, as the first of Snowden’s “Guardian Angels” settle into their new home in Montreal.
Vanessa Rodel and her seven-year-old daughter arrived in Toronto on Monday, nearly two months after the federal government formally granted them refugee status. But Rodel’s excitement over a new beginning in Canada has been tempered by concerns for the other five of Snowden’s helpers who remain in Hong Kong, including Keana’s father and two half-siblings.
“I am asking Canada to recognize the dire situation they are in in Hong Kong,” she told CTV News Montreal.
Their arrival on Canadian soil marks the end of a chapter dating back to 2013, when Snowden fled to Hong Kong after leaking classified documents from the U.S. National Security Agency. The so-called “Angels” hid Snowden until he fled Hong Kong, eventually being stopped in Russia where he now has asylum.
“I don’t have regrets to help him,” said Rodel. “For me he did the right thing, for me he is a hero.”
The five remaining “Angels” have been identified as Sri Lankan nationals Supun Kellapatha and Nadeeka Paththini, and their two young children, and Ajit Kumara, a Sri Lankan soldier who deserted the military. Rodel claims Kellapatha is Keana's father.
The group’s lawyer, Robert Tibbo, and three Montreal-based lawyers have filed asylum applications on their behalf, and collected around $350,000 for their expenses in Hong Kong and Canada, providing they arrive as privately sponsored refugees.
“Canada needs to step forward,” Tibbo told The Canadian Press. “The government of Canada has done the right thing for Vanessa and her daughter, but really what should have been done is all the families should have been brought into Canada at one time.”
Advocacy group Human Rights Watch echoed calls for Canada to expedite the process Tuesday.
“These five people, who live in daily fear, have sponsors ready and waiting in Canada. Their path to a secure life is clear,” said Dinah PoKempner, general counsel at Human Rights Watch in a blog post. “Vanessa and Keana have been saved by Ottawa’s decision to admit them. The authorities can save their friends from peril by allowing them entry to Canada.”
According to The Canadian Press, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said the government cannot weigh in on private refugee cases. However, this has been disputed by the advocacy group For the Refugees.
“The government has the ability to intervene and expedite the processing of the private-sponsored refugee claims of the remaining five Snowden refugees," spokesperson Ethan Cox said in an interview with the Canadian Press. “That is what we are asking today is for the government of Justin Trudeau to finish the job.”
With files from the Canadian Press
Merci à tous ceux qui, au Canada et dans le monde entier, ont rendu cela possible. Après tant d'années, la première des familles qui m'a aidé est libre et a un avenir. Mais le travail n'est pas fini - avec la solidarité et la compassion, le Canada peut tous les sauver. https://t.co/S7gaKT1ueQ— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) March 25, 2019