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Federal Court of Appeal Rules on Espionage and Canadian Security Interests

The Federal Court of Appeal has determined that individuals can only be barred from Canada under espionage-related provisions of the immigration law if their activities are demonstrably linked to Canadian security interests. This ruling was articulated in decisions concerning two men from Ethiopia, identified as members of an espionage organization, who sought entry into Canada.

The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act specifies that permanent residents and foreign nationals can be deemed inadmissible for engaging in espionage against Canada or actions contrary to Canada’s interests. The key legal issue in these cases was the interpretation of what constitutes activities “contrary to Canada’s interests.”

The individuals involved, Medhanie Aregawi Weldemariam and Abel Nahusenay Yihdego, both previously worked for Ethiopia’s Information Network Security Agency—an intelligence and security entity. Weldemariam was involved in developing air defense simulation software and had left Ethiopia in 2014 for graduate studies in Sweden. He later claimed refugee status in Canada in 2017 after allegedly being targeted by Ethiopian security forces upon his return from abroad.

Yihdego, employed as a protocol analyst and network engineer, also left the agency in 2014 for graduate studies abroad. He claimed he faced detention by Ethiopian security services upon his return in 2017, due to his political activities, and subsequently sought refugee protection in Canada.

Despite neither individual being directly involved in espionage activities, the Immigration and Refugee Board initially found both men inadmissible due to their association with the agency, which was known to use cybercapabilities and surveillance against journalists and dissidents.

However, the Federal Court in 2020 deemed this interpretation unreasonable, ruling that a direct link to Canada’s security interests was necessary to bar their entry under the law. This decision was upheld by the Court of Appeal, which noted the lack of evidence that the Ethiopian agency’s activities were directed at Canada, Canadian institutions, or members of the Ethiopian diaspora in Canada.

The appellate court’s decision clarified that mere membership in an organization engaged in espionage is insufficient grounds for inadmissibility unless the activities specifically target Canada or its interests. This interpretation enforces a more stringent criterion that aligns espionage-related inadmissibility with direct threats to Canadian national security.

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