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

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  • OTTAWA — 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.

    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.”

    — Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter

    Jim Bronskill , The Canadian Press


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    National

    In Canada, the term ‘nationalism’ doesn’t seem to have a bad rap. Here’s why.

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  • OTTAWA — On a historic Remembrance Day, a century after the end of the First World War, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a Paris crowd that decaying trust in public institutions will lead citizens to look for easy answers “in populism, in nationalism, in closing borders, in shutting down trade, in xenophobia.”

    The implication was clear: if nations turn in on themselves and treat outsiders as threats, we might again find ourselves in a bloody conflict with fronts all over the world.

    But a series of surveys suggest the idea of being a nationalist, and nationalism in general, are viewed fairly positively by most Canadians.

    What the data suggest is that Canadians don’t see the concept of nationalism the way people do in the United States, where the term is often linked with white-nationalist groups, and then with white supremacy and racism.

    Rather, Canadians appear to have constructed their view of nationalism on the idea of feeling connected to our country and ensuring that others feel connected as well — even as we watch the term pilloried globally.

    “It is used in different ways — when people are talking about the Trump nationalism, they would say (it’s) bad. But in Canada, they accept it because it is equated with certain communities and they see it as a way it’s helping vulnerable populations find their place in Canada,” said Kathy Brock, a political-studies professor at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.

    “Canadians have just acclimatized to this dual view of nationalism.”

    In the 1950s and 1960s, Canadians often reported feeling greater attachments to their particular communities or ethnic groups than they did to the country. In the intervening years, connection to country has strengthened while connection to community has faded, said Frank Graves, president of EKOS Research Associates, a polling and market-research firm. The opposite has happened in Europe, he said.

    Research also suggests Canadians’ attachments to their ethnic groups have weakened over the last 20 years in favour of an attachment to country, Graves said, even as census data shows the country’s population is becoming ever more diverse.

    “We don’t have a common ethno-linguistic homogeneity that produces a definition of ‘the people.’ It’s more civic nationalism,” Graves said.

    “In Canada, national identity has been created through a dialogue between citizens and the state and the public institutions — medicare, the Mounties, Parliament Hill. It isn’t as much steeped in history or common race and identity, which probably inoculates it from some of the more disturbing expressions of nationalism.”

    Newly released survey data from the Association of Canadian Studies says that 60 per cent of respondents hold a somewhat or very positive view of nationalism, compared with about 45 per cent in the United States. The results were similar in both English and French Canada.

    There also appears to be an association between Canadians’ views on nationalism and their views on multiculturalism.

    “In contrast to the European idea of nationalism, having that ethnic component to it, most Canadians don’t see nationalism as ethnically driven. They see it more as a form of patriotism,” said Jack Jedwab, the association’s president. “It doesn’t intersect as much as it does in the European context with anti-immigrant sentiment, or a sentiment against diversity.”

    The Leger Marketing survey of 1,519 Canadians on a web panel was conducted for the association the week of Nov. 12. Online surveys traditionally are not given a margin of error because they are not random and therefore are not necessarily representative of the whole population.

    A day after his Nov. 11 comments, Trudeau was asked how he defined nationalism and where he saw it in Canada.

    “In Canada, we’ve demonstrated many times that identities are complimentary,” he said. “I’m an extremely proud Quebecer, I’m an extremely proud Canadian and like most Canadians, they don’t see a contradiction in that.”

    Experts say the more negative forms of nationalism are nevertheless simmering in Canada. Jedwab’s survey data suggest that respondents who have positive views of nationalism are somewhat more worried about immigration and security along the U.S. border than those who have negative views of nationalism.

    Part of what fuelled U.S. President Donald Trump’s political rise, and his populist rhetoric, was financial worry — or what Graves described as the idea of the everyman versus the corrupt elites. Brock said Canada has thus far avoided similar concerns about class and finances, particularly coming out of the recession a decade ago, and a similar rise of nationalist rhetoric.

    “Now, we’re facing some really serious economic challenges and if they come to pass, then we could see a different manifestation of this,” she said. “So I don’t think those (polling) figures are necessarily set in stone.”

    — Follow @jpress on Twitter.

    Jordan Press, The Canadian Press


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    National

    British Columbia trade trip to China cancelled over Meng detention

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  • VICTORIA — The detention of a top Huawei executive in Canada has derailed British Columbia’s trade mission to China.

    The delegation led by B.C. Forestry Minister Doug Donaldson will no longer be stopping in China, and will instead end its trip after a visit to Japan.

    The decision follows the arrest of Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou, who was detained while changing flights last week in Vancouver.

    “The Province of British Columbia has suspended the China leg of its Asian forestry trade mission due to the international judicial process underway relating to a senior official at Huawei Technologies Co., Ltd.,” the province said in a statement, adding that British Columbia values its strong trade relationship with China.

    “It is anticipated that Minister Donaldson will work to reschedule events planned for the Chinese portion of this mission at the earliest convenient moment.”

    B.C. Trade Minister Bruce Ralston declined an interview request Sunday and Global Affairs Canada did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

    The United States is seeking to have Meng extradited on allegations that she tried to evade American trade sanctions on Iran. A bail hearing began in Vancouver on Friday, and Meng is spending the weekend in jail before it continues next week.

    The Chinese government has warned Canada that if Meng is not released, the country will face “grave consequences.”

    A report by the official Xinhua News Agency carried on the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s website said that Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng called in Canadian Ambassador John McCallum on Saturday over Meng’s detention.

    Huawei is the biggest global supplier of network gear for phone and internet companies and has been the target of deepening U.S. security concerns over its ties to the Chinese government. The U.S. has pressured European countries and other allies to limit use of its technology, warning they could be opening themselves up to surveillance and theft of information.

    Le told McCallum that Meng’s detention at the request of the United States was a “severe violation” of her “legitimate rights and interests.”

    “Such a move ignores the law and is unreasonable, unconscionable, and vile in nature,” Le said in the statement.

    “China strongly urges the Canadian side to immediately release the detained Huawei executive … or face grave consequences that the Canadian side should be held accountable for,” Le said.

    On Sunday, Le summoned U.S. Ambassador Terry Branstad for a similar meeting, demanding Washington cancel the order for Meng’s arrest, Xinhua News Agency said.

    Le called the United States to “immediately correct its wrong actions” and said it would take further steps based on Washington’s response.

    The Canadian Press



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