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Toronto-born son of Russian spies fights for Canadian citizenship

Recent university graduate Alex Vavilov was born in Toronto, which would typically qualify him for Canadian citizenship except for one thing: His parents were part of a notorious Russian spy ring in North America.

That is the conflict at the heart of a high-profile citizenship battle as the 23-year-old Vavilov seeks the right to reside permanently in the country where his parents once lived clandestine lives as deeply embedded spies who are the models for the TV show The Americans.

The Canadian government says he isn’t entitled to citizenship and has appealed to the Supreme Court to annul the passport granted to him by a lower court. Vavilov’s supporters say a son shouldn’t pay for the sins of his parents while critics contend his claim to be a Canadian by birth is based on a fraud since he and his parents lived under stolen identities in the Toronto area and later Massachusetts as they collected intelligence for Moscow.

The case is another reminder of the Cold War hostilities that are surging throughout the world in an era when Russia is accused of poisonings in Britain and interfering in elections — accusations it denies. Some argue Canada shouldn’t be quick to forgive the case of the Russian spy couple who lived under deep cover in North America.

“We shouldn’t be doing anything to encourage activity by the Russian intelligence service, particularly in terms of what’s happened recently with the poisoning of individuals,” said Richard DesLauriers, the FBI agent who oversaw the arrests of the parents, Andrey Bezrukov and Elena Vavilova, in 2010 along with eight other members of the spy ring around the U.S.

The court agreed earlier this month to take up Vavilov’s case and will rule on whether the government has the discretion to take away his citizenship. If it finds in Alex’s favour, it would likely allow his older brother Tim to retain his Canadian citizenship as well. The case presents unique set of circumstances.

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