Tim Foley, 20, left, and his brother Alexander leave federal court after a bail hearing for their parents, Donald Heathfield and Tracey Lee Ann Foley, in Boston on Thursday, July 1, 2010. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Elise Amendola

Children born to spies in Canada should not be handed citizenship: Ottawa

In a newly filed court submission, the government argues the Toronto-born son of Russian intelligence agents should be denied Canadian citizenship.

Russian spies lurking in the Canadian shadows may toil in secret, but they’re still employees of Moscow — and therefore their children are not Canadian citizens, the federal government is telling the Supreme Court.

In a newly filed court submission, the government argues the Toronto-born son of Russian intelligence agents should be denied Canadian citizenship, the same exception that applies to any child born in Canada to a foreign diplomat.

Ottawa is fighting a Federal Court of Appeal ruling that effectively affirmed the Canadian citizenship of Alexander Vavilov and, through a related case, his older brother.

Alexander, 24, and Timothy, 28, were born in Canada to parents using the aliases Donald Heathfield and Tracey Ann Foley.

The parents were arrested eight years ago in the United States and indicted on charges of conspiring to act as secret agents on behalf of Russia’s SVR, a successor to the notorious Soviet KGB.

Heathfield and Foley admitted to being Andrey Bezrukov and Elena Vavilova. They were sent back to Moscow as part of a swap for prisoners in Russia.

Alexander, who finished high school in Russia, changed his surname to Vavilov on the advice of Canadian officials in a bid to obtain a Canadian passport.

But he ran into a snag at the passport office and in August 2014 the citizenship registrar said the government no longer recognized him as a Canadian citizen.

The registrar said his parents were employees of a foreign government at the time of his birth, making him ineligible for citizenship.

The Federal Court of Canada upheld the decision.

Related: Four Canadian diplomats expelled from Russia

Related: Moscow says it regrets UK nerve agent poisoning death

But in June 2017, the appeal court set aside the ruling and quashed the registrar’s decision. It said the provision of the Citizenship Act the registrar cited should not apply because the parents did not have diplomatic privileges or immunities while in Canada.

On the strength of the ruling, Alexander has since been able to renew his Canadian passport and he hopes to live and work in Canada — calling his relationship with the country a cornerstone of his identity.

Although it involves the same central issue, Timothy’s case proceeded separately through the courts. In a decision earlier this year, the Federal Court said the ruling on Alexander equally applies to Timothy, making him “a citizen.”

The registrar’s original conclusion to the contrary was “logical and justified,” the government argues in its submission to the high court.

The parents’ purpose for being in Canada was akin to that of other employees of a foreign government: “they were dedicated to serving their home country, except in their case, the employment was carried out clandestinely.

“The broadly worded formulation of the provision seeks to treat the children of all employees in Canada of foreign governments in the same fashion, regardless of whether they are the children of diplomats, consular officials or spies,” the submission says.

“The registrar’s interpretation was reasonable and no convincing analysis has been put forward to show that it was unreasonable. The decision was justified, transparent and intelligible.”

The Supreme Court is expected to hear the case in early December in tandem with appeals by Bell Canada and the National Football League over whether Canadian viewers can watch American TV commercials during the Super Bowl game.

The disparate topics pose common questions about the nature and scope of judicial review of administrative actions.

In its submission on the Vavilov case, the government argues the courts should take “a deferential approach” when reviewing administrative decisions like that of the registrar of citizenship, with only “very limited exceptions.”

Alexander Vavilov has not yet submitted arguments to the court.

Lawyer Hadayt Nazami, who represents the brothers, has said the federal rationale leads down an “absurd and purposeless” path and that accepting the government’s position “would result in uncertainty about an individual’s fundamental right to citizenship.”

Jim Bronskill , The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

VIDEO: Hundreds of volunteers collect, wrap toys in Surrey at Sikh elementary school

Guru Nanak Free Kitchen, Sikh Academy partner together on annual toy drive

Road safety plan in the works for Surrey

Council to consider hosting ‘Vision Zero’ summit in new year

City of Surrey looks to reduce building permit wait times

Staff targeting a 10-week average processing time

Surrey considers 75% discount on senior rec passes, drop-in admission

Council to vote Monday on proposal to deeply discount rates for residents over 70

‘A promise is a promise’: Cloverdale lantern festival opens, two months late

After months of delays due to permit issues and uncooperative weather, Art of Lights finally opens

MAP: Christmas light displays in Surrey, Langley and beyond

Send us pictures of your National Lampoon-style lit-up homes, nativity scenes or North Pole playlands

Man dies after falling from B.C. bridge

Intoxicated man climbed railing, lost his balance and fell into the water below

Hundreds attend Hells Angels funeral in Maple Ridge

Body of Chad John Wilson found last month face-down under the Golden Ears Bridge.

B.C. animation team the ‘heart’ of new ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’

The animators, largely based in Vancouver, ultimately came up with a creative technique that is drawing praise

Light at the end of the tunnel for UN climate talks

Meeting in Katowice was meant to finalize how countries report their emissions of greenhouses gases

Gas prices to climb 11 cents overnight in Lower Mainland

Hike of 17 cents in less than 48 hours due to unexpected shutdown of Washington state pipeline

Janet Jackson, Def Leppard, Nicks join Rock Hall of Fame

Radiohead, the Cure, Roxy Music and the Zombies will also be ushered in at the 34th induction ceremony

Supreme Court affirms privacy rights for Canadians who share a computer

Section 8 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects Canadians against unreasonable search and seizure

B.C. fire chief pleads with Ottawa for traumatic stress support

Campbell River fire chief Thomas Doherty presented concerns to federal government

Most Read