OTTAWA — A Russian woman who feared being deported to face a conviction for opposing Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine has been granted Canadian citizenship, months after officials blocked her from taking the oath.
"I was very anxious today when I woke up, but now I feel way more relaxed," Maria Kartasheva said Tuesday afternoon, moments after becoming a Canadian citizen.
"I just don’t want anyone else to go through the same thing, because that was a very scary experience."
Kartasheva went public last week about the Immigration Department blocking her from taking a citizenship oath, just before her ceremony was to begin.
She came to Canada in 2019 because of rising authoritarianism, and is now a tech worker in Ottawa who co−founded a grassroots activist group for democracy in Russia.
As first reported by CBC News, Kartasheva, 30, learned via her family that in late 2022 she had been charged by Russian authorities with a wartime offence of disseminating "deliberately false information" about Russian forces.
The charges related to two blog posts she wrote in March 2022, while living in Canada, in which she expressed horror at Russian troops killing Ukrainians in the town of Bucha. The UN human−rights office said that attack included "unlawful killings, including summary executions, of at least 50 civilians."
Kartasheva notified Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada about the charges, and the department’s records show she uploaded translated Russian court documents last May. Days later the department gave her an invitation to her citizenship ceremony, which was to be virtual.
On June 7, 2023, she logged into the ceremony alongside her husband. In the pre−interview that takes place before someone is allowed into the ceremony room, they were asked if anyone had been criminally charged, as part of a list of standard questions.
When she explained what had happened, an official would not let her proceed with the ceremony.
Kartasheva had been arrested in absentia by a judge sanctioned by Canada. Months later, a Moscow court that is also under Canadian sanctions convicted Kartasheva, sentencing her to eight years in jail.
Last month, the department sent her a letter saying her conviction in Russia aligns with a Criminal Code offence in Canada relating to false information. Kartasheva appealed the notice, asking the government to reconsider the decision to block her from citizenship.
She feared being deported if the appeal failed.
"It was more stressful than the political persecution in Russia, to be honest. Because political persecution in Russia … wasn’t too surprising. But with Canada, I was shocked," she said.
Immigration lawyers and the opposition Conservatives argued the case was a clear misinterpretation of Canadian law. The Immigration Department responded by telling media that these cases are "carefully examined" before officials issue prohibition notices to people like Kartasheva.
Last Friday, as media reported on Kartasheva’s situation, she received a call from her MP, Liberal Anita Vandenbeld, who told Kartasheva she’d make inquiries about her case. Midday Tuesday, immigration officials called Kartasheva, inviting her to attend a virtual citizenship ceremony that afternoon.
Immigration Minister Marc Miller’s office would not say whether he had personally intervened in the case. Miller said on the platform X, formerly Twitter, that Kartasheva had been invited to be a citizen.
"Canada’s citizenship eligibility rules are designed to catch criminals, not to suppress or punish legitimate political dissent," he wrote Tuesday.
Kartasheva said she’s now focused on preventing others from facing the same situation.
The activist group she co−founded, the Russian Canadian Democratic Alliance, plans to launch a parliamentary petition calling on Ottawa to list foreign politically−motivated laws that have no equivalence in Canada, to avoid situations like hers.
The idea would be for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to have a list of laws in various countries that are used for political persecution, which Canadian bureaucrats wouldn’t use when listing citizenship applicants for a possible prohibition.
In her communication with the department, Kartasheva had to pay for a lawyer and for her Russian court documents to be officially translated. "It wouldn’t be on the individual who is being politically prosecuted to prove that; the Canadian government would do that for them," she said.
"Hopefully no one else will have to go through the same thing."
Russian human−rights group OVD−Info says more than 19,000 people have been detained at antiwar protests, resulting in more than 850 criminal cases. Many face multiple years in jail for referring to Russia’s invasion as a war.
Kartasheva says she knows another Russian who fled to Canada before being prosecuted in absentia, who has applied for refugee status and is waiting for a decision.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 9, 2024.
Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press Federal officials have given Canadian citizenship to a woman they had pulled from a citizenship ceremony because a Russian court had convicted her for opposing Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. A new Canadian citizen holds a ’Welcome Home’ booklet containing a citizenship certificate during a Canadian citizenship ceremony at the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Musical Ride stables in Ottawa, on Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Spencer Colby