The son of undercover Russian agents, arrested in the US and traded back to their home country during an international “spy exchange,” has won the right to retain his Canadian citizenship in a recent ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada.
According to a court brief, Alexander Vavilov was born in Toronto in 1994. He lived in the United States until 2010, when the court says his parents were arrested in the US for acting as undeclared agents of the Russian Federation and had been for their son’s entire life.
An FBI release from July 2010 reveals that “Donald Howard Heathfield” and “Tracey Lee Ann Foley” were actually Russian citizens named Andrey Bezrukov and Elena Vavilova, who pled guilty to “conspiring to serve as unlawful agents of the Russian Federation within the United States.”
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The parents, along with eight other Russians, were exchanged for the release of four individuals incarcerated in Russia at the time for “alleged contact with Western intelligence agencies.”
Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration) v. Vavilov – A person born in Canada to parents who were undercover Russian spies is a Canadian citizen, the Supreme Court has ruled: https://t.co/lD5sYgKuqU #citizenship #cdnlaw pic.twitter.com/FceGiAl1aQ
— Supreme Court of Canada (@SCC_eng) December 19, 2019
The issues faced by their son began when Vavilov tried to renew his Canadian passport. According to the Supreme Court ruling, he was rejected twice and told by officials that he required proof of his Canadian citizenship beyond his birth certificate — something typically not required for non-naturalized Canadians.
After obtaining the certificate, the court says his subsequent application was denied by the Registrar of Citizenship, citing an exception in the Citizenship Act that says children born in Canada to “a diplomatic or consular officer or other representative or employee in Canada of a foreign government” are not considered Canadian.
“The Registrar said the exception applied in Mr. Vavilov’s case,” wrote the court. “The Registrar relied on a report for [its] decision. The report was written by a junior analyst. The analyst noted there was no definition of ‘other representative or employee in Canada of a foreign government’ in the Act.”
Ultimately, the court says, the analyst determined that the exception could apply to spies, and this is given as the reason for the denial of a passport.
After a Federal Court looked into the matter and ruled for the Registrar, the Federal Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Vavilov.
“All the judges at the Supreme Court said the Registrar’s decision was ‘unreasonable’ and that the Federal Court of Appeal was right to quash it,” said a summary of the court’s decision.
While Vavilov’s parents were working for a foreign government, the court says their lack of “privileges and immunities” extended to members of foreign diplomatic cores — exampled by their arrest — swayed the judges to return Vavilov’s citizenship.
“Normally, if a court finds an administrative decision unreasonable, it will send it back to the decision-maker to try again,” concluded the summery. “In this case, the majority said it wouldn’t be useful to do that. Mr. Vavilov had already brought up all these issues and nothing changed the Registrar’s mind.
“The judges said that Mr. Vavilov was a Canadian citizen.”