Woman says Russian embassy in Canada denied her access to consular services – National

A Russian woman says she was denied consular services by her country’s embassy in Canada for claiming her Facebook activity posed a security threat.

« It was a shock for me, » said Elena Pushkareva, who left Russia ten years ago.

Pushkareva said the Russian Embassy, ​​which declined to comment to The Canadian Press, denied her access to its consular office in Ottawa, where she had an appointment to update her children’s documents.

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Pushkareva left Russia ten years ago for political reasons. She lives in Ottawa and had already visited the consular office, as recently as December 28, and made an appointment in January to process the paperwork.

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A few hours before the appointment, she said, she received a phone call from a man who identified himself as a Russian consular officer in Ottawa, but declined to give his name.

« They called me that morning, telling me that there was no need to come, that they would not provide the service to me, and that was the personal decision made by the ambassador, » said- she declared.

« I don’t understand why they decided to call me first, why it was so important to them that I didn’t even come. »

Pushkareva said the official said Ambassador Oleg Stepanov canceled the meeting because she posed a security risk to the building, due to her membership in a Facebook group.

Elena Pushkareva poses for a photo in front of the Russian Consular Affairs Building, Thursday, February 2, 2023 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld.


The group in question is advocating for the release of imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny, which Pushkareva says is aimed at people who believe Russia should not imprison people for their political views, which they support or support. no Navalny.

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She said the man on the phone said that if Pushkareva didn’t believe him, she could show up at the consulate and be told the same thing, which she says happened. The consulate is in a building down the street from the embassy.

She said she recorded the January 18 exchange. In the audio recording, an anonymous official tells him that being part of a specific Facebook page led to the ambassador verbally asking staff to deny him access to the consulate.

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The official says in Russian that the Facebook page included “information with calls for violent actions, to the detriment of the interests of the Russian Federation. For this reason, you are denied admission to consular service.

In the recording, Pushkareva asks what exactly constituted a threat on Facebook, but the consulate does not provide any examples.

Instead, the manager said she could write a letter to the ambassador, which she did.

« With this decision, you have gone beyond the legal framework of our country, » reads his letter in Russian, accusing the consulate of violating the Russian constitution by depriving it of consular access and failing to provide written reason.

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“I have used consular services in Canada on several occasions, and neither party has had any problems in terms of security,” she wrote.

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Pushkareva noted that consulate staff appeared to be naming a public Facebook page and confused it with a private Facebook group with a similar name. Pushkareva visited both, but said she was not responsible for what was displayed there. She also said she had not seen the violence advocated at either site.

She also noted that Facebook is supposed to remove content deemed to threaten violence, if moderators don’t do so first.

The embassy declined to comment, but the Novaya Gazeta news site said a consulate official insisted that Pushkareva was not denied services, only access to the consulate building. Still, the official did not specify how Pushkareva could be helped without entering the building, which they described as an institution with security measures.

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« If you don’t deny me the service, maybe you will provide the service to me or on the street? » Maybe they’ll bring a desk? Anyway, I made another appointment. I’m going to continue, because it’s rather interesting,” she said with a laugh.

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She said she went public with her story because she thought keeping quiet wouldn’t help resolve the situation.

Yet Pushkareva fears that the consulate ban will prevent her from updating her children’s Russian passports later. The thought of them not being able to visit loved ones is « very painful », but traveling seems impossible in the short term.

« There aren’t a lot of people here who aren’t afraid to go out and speak in public, » she said.

« With every situation like me, it really scares people. »

Pushkareva said she left Russia in 2013 over fears the country was becoming less and less democratic. Yet she was shocked by Moscow’s decision a year ago to invade Ukraine, which she protested in Ottawa.

« My personal feeling was that it was getting worse, and now it’s so sad to see it getting worse, » she said.

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“It is important that Canadians know that we exist, that there are Russians who have a different opinion than (President) Vladimir Putin and the Russian government.

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