- Jul 2011
Couple who fled Russia fighting for right to travel | The Chronicle Herald
Elena Ivanova, left, and Meg Stone are hoping to get out of Halifax Harbour before they’re ice-bound.
A couple who fled homophobic violence in Russia in an epic sailboat voyage are now fighting for their right to sail south before winter sea ice wrecks their floating home.
Elena Ivanova and her Canadian partner Meg Stone are currently moored in Halifax’s Northwest Arm, their latest home of many after more than a decade in search of safe harbour.
But they cannot go anywhere as Ivanova, a refugee from Russia and effectively stateless, has not received a Canadian travel document after five attempted applications and meetings with two MPs.
“We have a right to travel the world. We’ve done nothing wrong. We have the yacht, we have our health and we had the savings before all this happened,” said Stone. “They’ve basically kept us trapped here.”
Ivanova said that the Northwest Arm only had a month or so of warm weather left and feared losing the only home she knows to winter ice.
“Every single day that Passport Canada is stalling it puts our lives in danger,” said Ivanova.
Action and immigration
The couple have approached two MPs for help in recent weeks, but they were critical of how their case was handled.
One person in Ottawa learned about their case online and saw his local MP, David McGuinty, but when Ivanova spoke to him she says the MP warned her not to speak with media.
“He simply couldn’t believe this was happening to us,” said Ivanova of their helper in Ottawa.
But McGuinty, who represents Ottawa South, told the Chronicle Herald that he said no such thing to Ivanova.
Instead, he said the couple were free to speak with whomever they wished, but going public will not speed up the processing of immigration documents.
“What will expedite your file is to work hand in glove with your MP,” said McGuinty. “However, MPs are not in a position to fetter the decision-making powers of immigration officials.”
While Stone and Ivanova do not live in his constituency, McGuinty agreed look into their case as a personal favour to the constituent who contacted him after seeing their story.
However, he does not have an active file for the couple as Ivanova and Stone are not his constituents.
McGuinty’s office typically reviews the immigration and citizenship files of 35 to 40 constituents in need of help every week.
“This is an exceptional situation,” said McGuinty.
Travel and citizenship
Halifax MP Andy Fillmore — in whose constituency Stone and Ivanova are berthed — has also tried helping the couple.
Fillmore has met the couple three times on Aug. 4, 11 and 14. He said that Ivanova had been unable to obtain her travel document as she had photos and documentation from the United States that was not accepted by Canadian officials.
“What she really needs is a travel document,” said Fillmore, adding that the turnaround time is about 20 days.
Ivanova, a permanent resident, has also applied for Canadian citizenship, according to Fillmore. This will take longer to process.
“Her fear of persecution elsewhere in the world had followed her here, which is absolutely not the case,” said Fillmore.
Ivanova’s story began when she fled her native in Russia in 2006, making her way to Ukraine to meet Stone for the first time.
After her family tried kidnapping Ivanova back to Russia and assaulted Stone during a struggle in a McDonald’s restaurant, the couple used false names to flee to Turkey.
In the Turkish harbour town of Marmaris, the couple bought a boat and sailed through the Mediterranean, Atlantic, Caribbean Sea, then through the Panama canal and Pacific Ocean to Victoria, BC.
Their journey of thousands of miles saw the couple narrowly escape arrest and brave hurricane-force ocean winds during their ocean crossing.
Since arriving in Canada, they have also sailed to Mexico and the United states, which caused bureaucratic headaches for Ivanova.
“I must say it’s one of the most remarkable love stories I’ve ever heard,” said Fillmore.