FILE - In this July 1, 2010, file photo, Alex Vavilov, right, and his older brother brother Tim leave a federal court after a bail hearing for their parents Donald Heathfield and Tracey Ann Foley, in Boston, Massachusetts. Canada’s Supreme Court has ruled on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019, that Alex Vavilov, the son of a Russian spy couple who lived clandestine lives in Canada and the United States, can keep his Canadian citizenship. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File)

‘Happy to be back:’ Relieved son of Russian spies returns to Canada

TORONTO — A much-relieved son of Russian spies flew back from Moscow to his Toronto birthplace on Friday, a day after the Supreme Court of Canada affirmed his Canadian citizenship.

The court decision and flight marked an end to a long-running ordeal for Alexander Vavilov and his brother Timothy that began nine years ago when his parents were arrested in the United States and indicted on espionage-related charges.

“It’s been difficult, a lot of anguish and stress,” Vavilov said shortly after his arrival. “I’m happy to be back in Canada, to be here without this constant kind of doubt over my head, with the ability to finally start putting some roots down again and be able to build a new life for myself.”

He brandished his Canadian passport and grinned as he said, “I get to keep it.”

Vavilov, 25, and his brother, 29, were born in Canada to parents who used the aliases Donald Howard Heathfield and Tracey Lee Ann Foley. The family moved to the United States and, after their arrest, admitted to being Andrey Bezrukov and Elena Vavilova. The family was sent back to Moscow as part of a swap for prisoners in Russia, a place Vavilov had never been.

The revelations and move came as a shock, sparking a period of soul-searching for the young man. Despite the suffering inflicted on him, he said he has come to accept that his parents thought they were doing the right thing.

“Of course it was always difficult at the very beginning, going through all this identity crisis and troubles, but we managed to get past all this and we have kind of a good relationship,” he said. “I understand their decisions now. They did what they did for patriotic reasons.”

Vavilov’s problems were compounded when Canadian immigration officials decided in August 2014 he was no longer a citizen on the grounds that his parents had been employees of a foreign government when he was born.

In June 2017, the courts quashed the decision, allowing Vavilov to renew his Canadian passport. His brother’s case proceeded separately through the courts but in a decision last year, the Federal Court said the legal ruling on Alexander Vavilov would apply to both siblings.

The dual Canadian-Russian citizen said he had been “bouncing around” among several different countries in recent years, completing his graduate education in Europe. Now, he said, he hopes to settle down in Canada and find work in the field of finance, although he wouldn’t elaborate. He also said he looked forward to ordering junk food in English.

“I grew up my entire childhood being Canadian, believing I was Canadian — it’s really an integral part of my upbringing and my character,” he said. “I do feel Canadian. I want a future in Canada.”

Vavilov, who declined to comment on living in Russia under President Vladimir Putin, said he had seen the “The Americans,” a TV series based on his family’s saga. He said it was ”odd” watching what he called a good show.

“On one hand, you can relate to some things, and on the other hand it’s Hollywood with murder and shooting — completely unrealistic,” he said.

He flatly rejected any suggestions that he might have secret loyalties to Russia as politically motivated innuendo that is simply wrong.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 20, 2019.

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

RCMP investigate possible drowning at Pigeon Lake: Man and woman found dead on shore

Bodies recovered from Pigeon Lake’s northeastern shores.

Red Deer Region Highland Dancing Association to participate in national dance-a-thon

Central Albertan dancers have missed performing during the COVID-19 pandemic, says the… Continue reading

Maskwacis teen charged in 10-year-old boy’s death

The RCMP Major Crimes Unit have laid a manslaughter charge against a 13-year-old boy from Maskwacis.

Still no mandatory masks in Red Deer

While a growing number of Alberta communities have made masks mandatory, the… Continue reading

QUIZ: Do you know the truth?

In what has been described as a post-truth era, how much do you know about truth and lies?

Cast your votes for Best of Red Deer

The Advocate’s Best of Red Deer Readers’ Choice Awards are back. Community… Continue reading

69 salmonella cases in B.C. linked to red onions, province’s CDC says

VANCOUVER — The BC Centre for Disease Control is warning people in… Continue reading

Puncher’s chance: Fighting is up during unique NHL playoffs

The Toronto Maple Leafs’ season was hanging by a thread from one… Continue reading

Quebec festivals organizers look to innovate as restrictions loosened

Montreal has been having its quietest summer in recent memory, as COVID-19… Continue reading

COVID-19 outbreaks over in federal prisons, staff preparing for ‘new normal’

COVID-19 outbreaks in Canada’s federal prisons have been declared over, and staff… Continue reading

Canada to match donations to Lebanon relief

OTTAWA — The federal government will match all individual donations from Canadians… Continue reading

Protests in Beirut amid public fury over massive blast

BEIRUT — Police fired tear gas and clashed with demonstrators in Lebanon’s… Continue reading

Most Read