Vanessa Rodel and her seven-year-old daughter Keana arrived in Toronto on Monday night. “I feel so great and I feel like I’m free,” she said.
Lawyer Robert Tibbo represented Rodel as she sought asylum in Hong Kong in 2013 after being targeted by an armed group in her homeland. The lawyer asked her to help Snowden hide out there after he leaked documents revealing extensive United States government surveillance programmes.
Tibbo said Hong Kong rejected Rodel’s asylum request and since then officials there have grilled her over her contacts with Snowden, who now lives in exile in Russia.
Tibbo and a nonprofit group called For the Refugees wants Canada to accept five others who helped Snowden.
Snowden’s lawyer decided to go public with the identities of the refugees after learning that movie director Oliver Stone had found out about them and would incorporate their role into his film on Snowden, which was released in 2016.
The three families, who didn’t realise they were harbouring one of the world’s most wanted figures at the time, said they feared being sent back.
“Since that became public they have been targeted by the Hong Kong government who called up all of their refugee claimants and denied them all on the same day after about a half hour,” For the Refugees spokesman Ethan Cox said.
“They have had their support payments cut off. They’ve only been able to survive off donations to our non-profit.”
Snowden tweeted about Rodel and her daughter.
“Thank you to all those in Canada and around the world who have made this possible,” he wrote in French. “After so many years, the first of the families who helped me is free and has a future. But the work is not over – with solidarity and compassion, Canada can save them all.”
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said she could not comment on privately sponsored refugee applications.