Russian spy son relieved to retain Canadian citizenship

TORONTO (AP) – The son of a Russian spy couple who have lived underground in Canada and the United States on Friday said he wanted a future in Canada after the country’s Supreme Court ruled that he could keep his Canadian citizenship.

Alexander Vavilov was born in Toronto, which would generally qualify him for Canadian citizenship. But authorities had ruled that Vavilov was ineligible because his parents were part of a Russian spy ring in North America that was dismantled by the FBI in 2010.

The High Court rejected that finding on Thursday, which means Vavilov may reside permanently in the country where his parents once lived underground lives as deep-rooted spies who were role models for the TV show “The Americans “.

“It’s a huge relief,” Vavilov said at a press conference after flying to Toronto from Russia. “I’m happy to be back in Canada, to be here without that constant doubt in my head, with the ability to finally take root and build a life for myself. That will take time. But I’m happy that I can move on with my life and put these issues behind me.

Vavilov, 25, said he worked in finance, but said it had been difficult to find work. He said people trusted him but companies didn’t want to be associated with his spy story. “It was difficult, a lot of angst and stress,” he said.

He said he was rebounding in countries in the Middle East and Asia. He said it is “hard to say” where he resides now, but said he came from Russia. He declined to comment on life in Russia under Vladimir Putin.

The Canadian government argued that it was not entitled to citizenship and appealed to the Supreme Court to overturn the passport granted to it by a lower court. The highest court confirmed this decision.

Vavilov supporters have said a son should not pay for his parents’ sins, while critics argue his claim to be Canadian by birth was based on fraud, as he and his parents lived under stolen identities in the Toronto area and later in Massachusetts as they collected. information for Moscow.

He said he had mended his relationship with his parents. He said that everything is fine now after the initial hardships after their arrest.

“I understand their decisions now. They did what they did for patriotic reasons. They wanted to help their country fight for peace and better understanding between countries, ”he said. “Although I suffered from the result of all of this, I understand why they did what they did. In their position, maybe they shouldn’t have had children, but that doesn’t mean I’m not happy to be alive and being here.

Canada, like the United States, grants citizenship to anyone born in its territory, with a few exceptions, such as the children of diplomats. The government argued that Vavilov’s parents were employees or representatives of a foreign government and therefore ineligible. Vavilov’s lawyer argued that they were not official representatives and that all that matters in this case is their physical birthplace.

The parents arrived in Toronto in the 1980s and took the names of Donald Heathfield and Tracey Ann Foley. They then gave birth to two sons – Timothy in 1990 and Alexander in 1994 – before moving to Paris in 1995 and then to Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1999.

In 2010, the FBI arrested a network of Russian sleeper agents that they had followed for years in the United States. All 10, including the now well-known Anna Chapman, pleaded guilty and were sent back to Russia as part of an exchange.

He said he did not know his parents were spies and that he had never been to Russia. “I thought the FBI had the wrong house,” he said. “I do not believe it.”

The family story became the inspiration for “The Americans”. He said he and his parents watched the show.

“My parents said they liked watching it because it at least portrays the sense of patriotism and the sense of connection. It’s a good show,” he said.

The FBI agent who oversaw the arrests said in 2010 that Timothy Vavilov may have discovered his parents’ secret lives prior to their arrest.

Alex called this nonsense and said his parents would never have put them in danger by telling them this. The brothers have not been charged. “He’s in heaven,” he said of his brother.

Their lawyer said no evidence had ever surfaced to suggest the sons knew their parents were Russians or were spies.

Alexander Vavilov wanted to return to Canada for college, but this was refused. The government decided that Canada would no longer recognize him as a Canadian because his parents were “employees or representatives of a foreign government.”

After losing in a lower court, Vavilov won backing from the Federal Court of Appeal, which ruled in 2017 that the law only applies to employees of foreign governments who enjoy diplomatic immunities or privileges. Vavilov regained his nationality.

In its decision, the Supreme Court declared that the decision of the Registrar of Citizenship was unreasonable. Although the Registrar knew her interpretation of the provision was new, she failed to provide a proper rationale, the court said.

Although it relates to the same central issue, Timothy Vavilov’s case has been dealt with separately by the courts and has not gone directly to the Supreme Court. However, in a ruling last year, the Federal Court of Appeal said its 2017 ruling on Alexander Vavilov also applied to his brother, making him a citizen.

Former FBI agent Richard DesLauriers, who oversaw the couple’s arrests, Andrey Bezrukov and Elena Vavilova, and the other eight sleeper agents criticized the High Court’s ruling on Thursday. DesLauriers called it ridiculous.