Supreme Court rules both Canada-born sons of Russian spies are Canadian citizens

Nuts, substantively. While I await more commentary from legal experts, believe it merits an amendment to the Citizenship Act to clarify any future similar situations:

Alexander Vavilov, the Toronto-born son of Russian spies, is a Canadian citizen, the Supreme Court of Canada has decided.

In its judgment Thursday, the high court upheld a Federal Court of Appeal decision that effectively affirmed the citizenship of not only Alexander but also his brother Timothy.

Aside from addressing the citizenship matter, the Supreme Court ruling aimed to bring clarity to the nature and scope of judicial review of decisions by administrative officials.

Alexander, 25, and Timothy, 29, were born in Canada to parents using the aliases Donald Howard Heathfield and Tracey Lee Ann Foley.

The parents were arrested nine 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.

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.

In its decision, the Supreme Court said the registrar’s decision was unreasonable. Although the registrar knew her interpretation of the provision was novel, she failed to provide a proper rationale, the court said.

Although it involves the same central issue, Timothy’s case proceeded separately through the courts and was therefore not directly before the Supreme Court.

However, in a decision last year, the Federal Court said the ruling on Alexander equally applied to Timothy, making him “a citizen.”

Source: Supreme Court rules both Canada-born sons of Russian spies are Canadian citizens

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

4 Responses to Supreme Court rules both Canada-born sons of Russian spies are Canadian citizens

  1. Robert Addington says:

    The Court has ruled, on the facts and the applicable law (and in my view correctly), that the Registrar’s decision was unreasonable and that Alexander Vavilov is in fact a Canadian citizen.

    Children do not choose their parents or the place or circumstances of their birth. None of us got to make those choices.

  2. Andrew says:

    But substantively, how is the Vavilov situation any different from any child of a foreign diplomat or consular official who cannot claim citizenship given they also did not choose the circumstances of their birth. Given that we may have other Vavilov-type cases in the future, an amendment to the Act to clarify that the bar pertains also to government officials on undeclared government business (would rely on the lawyers to find the appropriate wording).

    • Robert Addington says:


      I agree that a clarifying amendment to the Citizenship Act would be in order.

      • Andrew says:

        BTW, really appreciate your comments and questions. Helps keep me on my toes. Best for the holidays.

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