New life in Montreal for family that helped Edward Snowden flee to Hong Kong

Marc-Andre Seguin with For the Refugees said Supun Thilina Kellapatha, Nadeeka Dilrukshi Nonis and their children, Sethumdi and Dinath, are settling into their new apartment in the city after arriving Tuesday night from Toronto.

Supun Thilina Kellapatha, Nadeeka Dilrukshi Nonis and their children are settling in to the city, lawyer says

Supun Thilina Kellapatha, Nadeeka Dilrukshi Nonis and their children, Sethumdi and Dinath, arrived in Montreal on Tuesday. (Submitted by Jayne Russell/For The Refugees)

 A family that helped shelter whistleblower Edward Snowden in Hong Kong in 2013 has landed in Canada and is looking forward to beginning an "extraordinarily normal life'' in Montreal, says a refugee advocacy group.

Marc-André Séguin with For the Refugees said Supun Thilina Kellapatha, Nadeeka Dilrukshi Nonis and their children, Sethumdi and Dinath, are settling into their new apartment in the city, after arriving Tuesday night from Toronto.

Séguin, who is also a lawyer, said the family is jet-lagged and exhausted but thrilled to have been granted asylum.

"After years and years of waiting, to finally see the light at the end of the tunnel, to finally have the expectation of a better life, of safety and of having their stateless children recognized and acknowledged by a state was a tremendous moment for them,'' Séguin said Wednesday in an interview.

The family's arrival in Canada is the culmination of a long saga going back to 2013.

In this Oct. 11, 2013 file image made from video and released by WikiLeaks, former National Security Agency systems analyst Edward Snowden speaks in Moscow. (Associated Press)

The family members are among the seven people dubbed "guardian angels'' who offered help and shelter to Snowden when he fled to Hong Kong after leaking classified documents from the U.S. National Security Agency, which exposed the scope of massive government surveillance operations.

Séguin said the helpers were all asylum seekers from Sri Lanka and the Philippines. While their involvement was originally kept quiet, he said the 2016 film Snowden, directed by Oliver Stone, brought them notoriety and made the process of claiming official refugee status — which is already extremely difficult in Hong Kong — nearly impossible.

The aid group ultimately decided on Quebec as a destination, Séguin said, because it's safe and because the province has a program that accepts privately sponsored refugees without requiring they get official designation from the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR.

Two of the other "Snowden refugees'' — Vanessa Rodel and her daughter Keana — landed in Montreal in 2019, and the last remaining member of the group remains in Hong Kong awaiting approval to come to Canada.

Snowden said on Twitter Tuesday the family's arrival is "the best news I've heard in a long, long time,'' and he thanked those who helped the family.

"We need to bring one more home before we can say we're done, but I cannot thank you enough for bringing us this far,'' he wrote.

This photo, taken in 2017, shows Nadeeka Dilrukshi Nonis, right, with her son Dinath and daughter Sethmundi Kellapatha and Vanessa Mae Rodel with her daughter Keana. (Vincent Yu/The Associated Press)

Séguin would not confirm whether Snowden has direct contact with any of the families.

Séguin said the new arrivals are looking forward to an "extraordinarily normal life'' that includes being able to work and go to school, and the children, aged five and almost 10, getting their first photo IDs.

"They'll get to open bank accounts, they'll get to work,'' he said. "The children are acknowledged by a state for the first time in their life. They'll have their first photo IDs.

"All these day-to-day mundane things we all take for granted but for them are really extraordinary right now.''

The lawyer said the good news of the family's arrival is overshadowed by the fact the final member of the group, Ajith Pushpakumara, remains in Hong Kong in a situation he described as "fragile.''

Séguin said the group doesn't understand why it has taken the Canadian government so long to approve the claims, which were filed in early 2017, nor why some members of the group have been approved more quickly than others.

"Canada did an extraordinary thing in admitting six of the seven Snowden refugees,'' he said. "It's time to do one more thing and let the seventh one in as soon as possible.''


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?