Montreal

Refugee who sheltered Snowden in Hong Kong excited to start life in Montreal

Vanessa Rodel, who arrived in Montreal Tuesday with her daughter Keana, seven, said she is hopeful fellow members of the group dubbed Snowden's "guardian angels" will be allowed to join them here.

Vanessa Rodel and her daughter Keana arrived in Montreal Tuesday after years in limbo

Vanessa Rodel said that after a decade of living in limbo in Hong Kong, she's excited to start over in Canada. (Matt D'Amours/CBC)

Vanessa Rodel, a refugee who helped shelter whistleblower Edward Snowden in Hong Kong years ago, is finally in Montreal, and she says she's excited to learn French and try maple syrup.

"There was no hope for me in China. No future for my daughter," said Rodel, 42, who arrived in Montreal Tuesday with her seven-year-old daughter, Keana.

Now, the two are looking forward to their new lives in Quebec.

Rodel said her daughter loves the snow and is hoping to see some huskies. 

Rodel had been living in Hong Kong since 2002 after fleeing her home in the Philippines. She applied for asylum there in 2010, but her claim was rejected.

Vanessa Rodel and her seven-year-old daughter, Keana, arrived in Montreal today. Canada has granted them asylum after they faced persecution in Hong Kong for helping hide whistleblower Edward Snowden. 1:07

Now that the mother and daughter are in Canada, school, work and a permanent home are all possible.

Despite the long trip, Rodel told reporters in Montreal that when the plane touched down in Canada she didn't feel tired — she was just excited and taken aback by how friendly everyone was.

'Angels' left behind

Rodel said she is hopeful fellow members of the group dubbed Snowden's "guardian angels" will be allowed to join her here.

The "angels" still in Hong Kong have been identified as a couple from Sri Lanka, Supun Kellapatha and Nadeeka Paththini, and their two young children. Rodel said Kellapatha is Keana's father. The fifth "angel" is Ajit Kumara, a Sri Lankan soldier who deserted the military. 

"Despite my happiness, I'm still sad. We are a family," Rodel told CBC.

Vanessa Rodel and her seven-year-old daughter Keana leave Toronto's Lester B. Pearson Airport Monday. (Christopher Katsarov/Canadian Press)

The pair's arrival in Canada brought an end to what her lawyer Robert Tibbo described as 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, Tibbo said Rodel and a handful of others banded together to help the whistleblower in his early days as a fugitive.

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

Tibbo called on Ottawa to extend the same welcome Rodel and Keana received to the rest of the group.

"Canada needs to step forward," he said. "The government of Canada has done the right thing for Vanessa and her daughter, but really what should have been done is all the families should have been brought into Canada at one time."

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has said the government cannot weigh in on private refugee cases or comment on individual situations.

But Ethan Cox, a spokesperson for the advocacy group For the Refugees, questioned that claim.

"The government has the ability to intervene and expedite the processing of the private-sponsored refugee claims of the remaining five Snowden refugees," Cox said.

"That is what we are asking today is for the government of Justin Trudeau to finish the job."

With files from CBC's Matt D'Amours and Canadian Press

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