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Alleged Russian spy, Canadian husband calling on court to clarify the term ‘espionage’

Alleged Russian spy seeking to appeal deportation order
WATCH: A former Russian interpreter once accused of being a spy is speaking out for the first time. Global's Anne Leclair reports.

A former Russian interpreter, once accused of being a sex spy and now facing a deportation order, is speaking out on camera for the first time about her ordeal.

On June 20, the federal government issued a deportation order against Elena Crenna, after Canada’s Immigration Appeal Division ruled she engaged in acts of espionage more than two decades ago.

Crenna, now 57, and her Canadian husband are appealing the decision and calling on the Federal Court to clarify the definition of “espionage.”

Elena and David Crenna at their wedding
Elena and David Crenna at their wedding Global News

“I never thought I would wake up in a nightmare like this,” Crenna said in an interview from her home in Ottawa.

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“I’ve had migraines all my life, but now I have them every day. I’m on medication for anxiety and depression — that’s the emotional toll.”

When Crenna initially agreed to work as an interpreter on a Canadian-funded housing project in Russia in 1994, she never imagined it would come back to haunt her.

A recent ruling by the Immigration Appeal Division found that she engaged in “acts of espionage contrary to Canada’s interests” overturning a previous ruling by the Immigration and Refugee Board in May 2018 that concluded Crenna’s actions did not amount to espionage.

READ MORE: Former interpreter issued deportation order for Russian espionage

The accusations stem from unsolicited meetings she had with Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) between 1994 and 1996.

“Basically, they’re claiming something that is typically only claimed in authoritarian countries which is you are guilty, because of the people you associate with and people you talked to,” said her husband and former boss, David Crenna.

“It’s essentially guilt by association purely with no substance required — she [Immigration Appeal Division member] says in the decision no substance is required.”

David Crenna was the Canadian policy advisor who first hired and later married the Russian interpreter.

The two parted ways once the project ended but reunited after a former Russian spy released a book titled Comrade J, appearing to address the Crennas’ affair and insinuating Elena was “offered” to David while working as a sex spy.

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READ MORE: Accused Russian ‘sex spy’ did not engage in espionage, refugee board rules (June 29, 2018)

While he’s insulted by the accusation and calls it pure fiction, his wife sees the humour.

“I’m laughing, see? Because I’m sorry, can I use the B.S. word? This is just B.S.” she told Global News.

The Crennas are hoping their judicial appeal to the federal court filed earlier this month will help clarify the current definition of espionage, overturn the deportation order and ultimately clear her name.

David and Elena Crenna photographed in Moscow in 1995.
David and Elena Crenna photographed in Moscow in 1995. Global News

“It’s an important case,” their lawyer Arghavan Gerami told Global News. “The court will have an opportunity to look at what exactly it means for someone to act against Canada or Canada’s interests.”

“What we want is the decision struck down and a clear policy definition of what espionage is,” said David Crenna. “Because every minute and every bit of resources that are required in this field should be working on going after real security threats to Canada.”

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WATCH: (Dec. 31, 2018) Russia detains American citizen on suspected espionage

Russia detains American citizen on suspected espionage
Russia detains American citizen on suspected espionage

The Office of the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness refused to comment on Crenna’s case  citing privacy reasons, but outlined the series of steps that must be followed before deportation.

  • an independent assessment of all asylum claims by the quasi-judicial Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB),
  • administrative review by the IRB, and
  • judicial appeal to the Federal Court, as well as
  • Pre-Removal Risk Assessments in certain cases.

“Canada has a robust assessment process and safeguards to ensure that no one is removed to risk or persecution,” said Scott Bardsley, manager of media and communications at the minister’s office.

“By law, once all avenues of appeal are exhausted, CBSA must enforce removal orders as soon as possible.”