Vanessa Rodel talks to media after arriving at Lester B. Pearson Airport in Toronto on Monday, March 25, 2019. A woman who escaped violence and human trafficking and helped shelter former CIA whistleblower Edward Snowden when he fled to Hong Kong is coming with her daughter to Canada after being granted refugee status, her lawyer said Monday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov

‘Snowden refugee’ living in Montreal calls on Canada to accept others

After years of uncertainty, the 42-year-old said getting real ID felt like ‘winning a prize.’

Two months after landing in Canada, a refugee who helped shelter whistleblower Edward Snowden in Hong Kong says she’s grateful for her new life but is worried about the other members of the group who assisted the American fugitive.

Vanessa Rodel said she and her seven-year-old daughter, Keana, are settling into life in Montreal, where they’ve found an apartment and are learning French.

READ MORE: Refugee who sheltered Edward Snowden in Hong Kong arrives in Canada

For the first time since she fled gender-based persecution and human trafficking in the Philippines to head to Hong Kong 17 years ago, she can go to school again.

After years of uncertainty, the 42-year-old said getting real ID felt like “winning a prize.”

“For the first time I got a credit card and permanent residence, so I’m so happy,” she said Wednesday at a news conference in Montreal. ”Now I’m going to French class, it’s amazing, because I already got my student ID.”

Rodel said she and her daughter have been enjoying Montreal’s food, taking walks on Mount Royal and basking in their newfound freedom.

Keana, who wore a sparkly purple dress, showed off her ability to count to 10 in French and said her favourite subject in school is basketball.

Despite her gratitude, Rodel said she remains worried about the five other members of the group dubbed Snowden’s “Guardian Angels” — including her daughter’s father and step-siblings — who remain in Hong Kong.

On Wednesday, Rodel and her lawyers issued a new plea to the Canadian government to accept the asylum claims of the remaining “Angels,” who they say face discrimination in Hong Kong for their role in helping Snowden. Four of them, including two young children, have had their asylum claims rejected there and could be deported to Sri Lanka.

“Our family has been divided, and I ask Canada to act now to bring the family together,” Rodel said, adding that she didn’t understand why all the Snowden refugees hadn’t been accepted at the same time.

Rodel and Keana’s arrival at the end of March brought an end to a saga dating back to 2013.

At that time, when Snowden fled to Hong Kong after divulging classified documents from the U.S. National Security Agency, Rodel and a handful of others banded together to help in the whistleblower’s early days as a fugitive, according to their lawyer.

The information Snowden leaked exposed the scope of massive government surveillance operations. He currently lives in Moscow and is wanted in the United States on charges related to the leaks.

The remaining “Angels” have been identified as a couple from Sri Lanka named Supun Kellapatha and Nadeeka Dilrukshi, and their two young children, ages 3 and 7. The fifth is a Sri Lankan soldier who deserted the military. Rodel has said Kellapatha is Keana’s father.

Rodel appeared at the news conference alongside her lawyers, who announced they had filed additional applications last week to have the remaining refugees accepted on humanitarian grounds and for reasons of family reunification.

Lawyer Guillaume Cliche-Rivard said the whole family is suffering psychologically from the separation, and it’s imperative that they are brought together in Canada soon.

“We can’t have a daughter separated from her father for more than two months,” he said. ”Even two months is too long, and we need to reunite them as soon as possible.”

He expressed hope that the additional submissions would help boost the family’s existing asylum claim.

Robert Tibbo, a lawyer representing the group, said a recent case in which Germany granted asylum to two Hong Kong activists lends credence to the Snowden group’s claims that they’ve been persecuted by Hong Kong authorities.

The German decision to grant protection to the two pro-democracy protesters has been interpreted as a manifestation of growing concern over how Hong Kong treats those with dissenting political views.

Tibbo said many countries have been reluctant to accept asylum claims from the semi-autonomous Chinese territory, believing it to be a safe area.

The German decision, and the Hong Kong’s government’s angry response to it, shows the remaining five refugees are “at immediate risk for their safety and security,” he said.

“The Snowden refugees still in Hong Kong are at the mercy of the Hong Kong government, and they’ve been persecuted for the last three years,” he said. ”They stand alone compared to the rest of the refugee community.”

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

BUSINESS BUZZ: COVID and cash, ATCO’s Weatherford heads Selkirk board, and more

Darren Davidson brings us the latest goings-on in the local business world

Two new fires burning in the Arrow Lakes Region

One of the fires is burning approximately 30 kilometres northwest of Castlegar

LETTER: ‘Raw racism?’

From reader Paul Van Caeseele

Nelson Hydro’s manager is moving on

Alex Love has taken a position on the Northwest Territories

Municipal climate caucus, founded in Nelson, meets for national online conference

The group consists of 294 mayors, councillors and regional directors from across the country

STANDING TALL: Forestry workers meet the challenges, remain hopeful

A look at the forest sector in B.C. – and those hoping for the best – amid mill curtailments

Man suffers serious injuries in bear attack in remote area near Lillooet

It was deemed a defensive attack, no efforts were made to locate the animal

Parkinson SuperWalk goes virtual throughout B.C. due to COVID-19

People encouraged to walk around their neighbourhood, along community trails, through parks, forests

Missed rent payments ‘cause of COVID-19? You have until July 2021 to pay up

Each monthly instalment must be paid on the same date the rent is due

U.S.-Canada pandemic border restrictions extended into September

‘We will continue to keep our communities safe,’ says Public Safety Minister Bill Blair

578 British Columbians currently infected with COVID-19

Seventy-eight new cases confirmed in past 24 hours

WE Charity registers as lobbyist, lays off staff, looking to sell real estate

WE Charity said its financial position has been greatly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic

Conservation seizes fawn illegally kept captive in Vancouver Island home

A Comox Valley resident charged and fined under the Wildlife Act

Pandemic could be driving more parents to get on board with flu shot: study

University of B.C. study gauges willingness for parents to vaccinate children for influenza

Most Read