Ottawa judge to hear case of Elena Crenna, who denies allegations she shared classified information with Russian officials
Leyland Cecco in Toronto – The Guardian
Elena and David Crenna had lived a quiet life in Ottawa for nearly five years when immigration officials deported her in July. Photograph: Marvin Recinos/AFP via Getty Images
A woman at the centre of a three-decades-old Russian “sex spy” scandal is fighting her deportation from Canada, denying allegations she ever shared classified information with Russian officials.
An Ottawa judge was due on Wednesday to hear the case of Elena Crenna, a Russian American woman who married the former Canadian civil servant David Crenna.
The two had lived a quiet life in Ottawa, for nearly five years when immigration officials deported Elena Crenna in July. They accused the 58-year-old of engaging “acts of espionage contrary to Canada’s interests” – and banned her from ever re-entering the country.
The trouble for the couple dates to 1994, when David Crenna was working in the Russian town of Tver, overseeing an initiative that trained local workers how to build timber-frame houses.
The project, part of an attempt to prepare workers in the post-Soviet economy, was funded by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and the World Bank.
As part of the project, he hired Elena Filatova, a local resident, as his translator.
David Crenna has said that during the project, agents with the Federal Security Service approached Elena Crenna about the work. Wary of angering local authorities, Elena Crenna gave her permission to speak openly with agents, saying she met with them seven times over the two-year period the project ran. She has said the meetings were “benign” – and that no confidential information was ever shared.
At the same time, the two began an affair that lasted for much of the project. David Crenna told immigration officials that the affair ended “badly” after he told his wife about the relationship.
The pair went their separate ways after the project ended, but eventually reunited in California in 2008, marrying in 2012. She moved to Canada to live with him, telling officials that she lived “quietly, walking my dog and being with my husband”.
Elena Crenna applied for permanent residency and was approved. But they soon learned the Canadian government had a very different view of their relationship, accusing her of spying and ordering her deported from Canada.
Part of the government’s accusations come from the 2008 book, Comrade J, by the journalist Pete Earley. In the book, Earley interviews Sergei Tretyakov, a former Russian intelligence officer who defected to the US in 2000. While Tretyakov does not name Elena, he suggests that someone matching her description was working as a “sex spy” in the 1990s, tasked with infiltrating the Canadian-led project. Both Elena and David have rejected the accusation.
“I didn’t get any vibes that she was a spy,” David told the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada last year.
This summer, the board’s adjudicator agreed Elena wasn’t a “sex spy” – but that she nonetheless acted “covertly” in her dealings with Russian intelligence.
“Some may consider [Elena Crenna’s] acts to be harmless given the socio-political context in Russia more than two decades ago. Others will be sympathetic to [Elena Crenna] and her husband; I am,” wrote board member Annie Lafleur in the July decision, approving the deportation of Elena.
Elena Crenna has since moved back to the US, where she has both family and citizenship, but her husband is confident the justice system will side with his wife.
“Sanity may prevail and I’m very hopeful that it will,” he told the Canadian Press before the hearing. “But at the moment it’s conceivable that they could say, ‘Well, let’s grind these people into the ground.”’