Sanctuary: Myths, Movements, Momentum

Date(s) - November 28, 2014
7:00 pm - 9:00 pm

First Lutheran Church

Categories No Categories

An educational public forum to discuss the legal and theological context and
framework for sanctuary, and to hear the personal stories from the
individuals living in sanctuary and from churches currently partaking in the
sanctuary movement in the Greater Vancouver Area.

Our major focus and goal for this forum is to convey the positive history of
supporting sanctuary, to foster movement and momentum, and to call people of
faith to their roots of justice and peace.

The forum will be broadcasted live for those unable to attend at

Pr Lori-Anne Boutin-Crawford
First Lutheran Church


A Letter from Pastor Lori-Anne Boutin-Crawford and Lanny Harris of First Lutheran Church

Hi everyone,

To all friends and supporters of Mikhail, the Lennikov family and First Lutheran Church,

It has been over a year since our last update. We often thought of relaying the unchanged status of our current situation here at First Lutheran, but we have waited until we had adequate understanding of our efforts to bring about a positive resolution for the Lennikov family. Although our last year’s endeavors did not achieve what we had aspired, we are still able to write to you in hope for what the future may hold.

Over five years ago, Mikhail Lennikov was granted sanctuary at First Lutheran Church in Vancouver, BC. This was a desperate act to remain united with his family and to avoid serious risk to his safety upon removal to Russia. This was an act of last resort to remain within Canada, in hope that his order of deportation be reversed. Historically, seeking sanctuary in Canada occurs when immigration applicants or refugee claimants are trying to avoid serious harm to themselves and to their families due to the Department of Immigration s failure to regard and treat them in a fair and just manner, sometimes because of an error. The Greater Vancouver Area currently has three persons taking sanctuary in a church: Jose Figueroa, Rodney Watson, and Mikhail Lennikov.

In 2006, the Immigration and Refugee Board decided that, as a former employee of the KGB, the Soviet Security Service, Mikhail Lennikov was inadmissible to Canada. Although Citizenship and Immigration had approved in principle that Mikhail s wife Irina and his son Dmitri could stay in Canada as permanent residents, Mikhail s application was refused and he was issued a deportation order after living in Canada for twelve years. Unfortunately, Mikhail s efforts to prove this decision wrong and his plea at various levels of the judiciary and government to stay in Canada with his family have been unsuccessful.

Despite the fact that the decision makers may believe the Lennikovs have been subjected to a fair process and in full compliance with Canadian Law, we, the congregation of First Lutheran, dare to disagree. Our supporters also agree and stand with us, seeking justice.

Since 1999, the conclusions drawn by Citizenship and Immigration of Canada (CIC) and Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) have been puzzling, and there is evidence of inconsistency and contradiction in their official documents. For example, in September 2008, CIC decided that Irina and Dmitri would face no risk, harm, or undue hardship if deported to Russia, and were scheduled for removal from Canada along with Mikhail. However, merely four months later, CIC approved Irina and Dmitri, in principle, as Permanent Residents of Canada on Humanitarian and Compassionate Considerations because of the potential risk and undue hardship they would face if deported to Russia. We strongly believe, that Mikhail s case should have been decided in the same vein, as his circumstances are even more dire than those of his wife and son. Truly, we fear what awaits Mikhail if he has to return to Russia, and it is our hope that our legal system hears our plea.

From the time when Mikhail entered sanctuary at First Lutheran in June 2009, we have been seeking a positive resolution through legal and political means. In 2012, our legal counsel became a prominent immigration lawyer, Hadayt Nazami, based in Toronto. He has filed four applications with CIC and the Ministry of Public Safety built around the evidence that did not exist before and has never been submitted to the decision makers, addressing Mikhail s inadmissibility. The legal arguments for Mikhail s case have been especially strengthened by a recent decision the Supreme Court of Canada, in particular refraining from labeling people as criminals by simple association. This is powerful evidence demonstrating that Mikhail should not be considered inadmissible simply due to his association with the KGB, as he is not a criminal, and has never committed any crimes against Canada.

As of this writing, all these applications are still being reviewed. Our lawyer, Hadayt Nazami, believes that the changes in our evidence and the changes in immigration law since Mikhail s last proceedings are in our favor. Particularly with the recent change in immigration law with the clause changing for inadmissibility to include only acts done against Canada, Mikhail s case is now stronger than ever. Our lawyer will uncompromisingly fight for Mikhail, as he believes that there is ample objective evidence to establish that Mikhail is not inadmissible to Canada, that he is at risk if he is removed to Russia, and his family will be substantially harmed if they are separated. Hadayt is determined and hopeful about Mikhail s case, and he will do everything he can do to ensure that justice prevails.

For the last five years, we have been closely working with the federal and provincial politicians who have pledged their support in Mikhail s case; unfortunately, our efforts have not brought a positive resolution thus far.

This past year, we sought to engage directly with our federal politicians in hope that we could have a meaningful dialogue regarding Mikhail s case. Last November, we wrote a letter to Wei Young, a Conservative Member of Parliament for Vancouver-South, asking her to advocate Mikhail s case to the Minister of Immigration Chris Alexander and the Minister of Public Safety Steven Blaney. We never received a reply from Wei Young. We copied this letter to both Ministers who eventually generated responses reflecting the current legal decisions regarding Mikhail s case. Our National Bishop, Rev. Susan Johnson, contacted one of the principal decision makers with a request for a meeting, but this too was denied. Unfortunately, our efforts to seek justice have been dismissed by our federal politicians.

Despite our attempts to engage in the democratic processes of our country, we have come to understand that our best hope lies with our lawyer, Hadayt Nazami, and with his unfaltering fight for justice.

Throughout these past months, we have also connected with locals in city in support of sanctuary. From our grassroots involvement came the idea and the courage to have an educational public forum to discuss the legal and theological context and framework for sanctuary, to hear the personal stories from those living in sanctuary and from churches currently partaking in the sanctuary movement. On Friday November 28, from 7-9pm, First Lutheran will host a forum entitled:  SANCTUARY: MYTHS, MOVEMENT, MOMENTUM.  Our major focus and goal for this forum is to dispel myths and fears of supporting sanctuary, to foster movement and momentum, and to call people of faith to their roots of justice and peace.

We are incredibly honored that our National Bishop, Susan Johnson, will be joining in this dialogue, sharing her support for sanctuary. We are hoping that many of you will be able to attend this forum, whether in person or via our live broadcast.

Without question, our support is not only for Mikhail, but also for his family. In January 2010, Irina and Dmitri moved into First Lutheran to join Mikhail. In March 2011, Irina s application on Humanitarian and Compassionate consideration was approved and she and Dmitri became permanent residents of Canada. Last year, they both applied for citizenship. Dmitri recently passed his Canadian Citizenship Exam and is waiting for the date of his Citizenship ceremony. Recently, Irina has completed a program in Office Administration, is currently working in a company in the health industry, and at the same time continuing her education towards a college degree.

Dmitri is continuing with his studies, and is in his third year in Computer Science in UBC. Despite the hardships and difficulties of this situation, the Lennikovs are united and following their dreams and aspirations, strongly believing that Mikhail s imprisonment will be eventually over.

Over five years have passed since First Lutheran Church opened its doors to provide a safe place for Mikhail, Irina, and Dmitri. It has not been an easy time, but it has been a time filled with hope, faith, and determination. The resolve of our Pastor, Council, and congregation of First Lutheran, as well our supporters, remains as strong as it was in the beginning of our journey..

Despite the fact that  the sanctuary story  disappeared from the media several years ago, it has not been forgotten. You have been continuing to encourage and give us comfort, with your unwavering moral, emotional, and generous financial support, sustaining and upholding us in our call for compassion and for social justice. We can’t thank you enough! We have no doubt that together, with your prayers, encouragement, and support, we will see wrongs made right and Mikhail s freedom restored.

On behalf of First Lutheran Church

Lori-Anne Boutin-Crawford, Pastor

Lanny Harris, Council Chairperson

Pr Lori-Anne Boutin-Crawford

Ph: 604-435-6020

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