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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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    Canada should do more to help women refugees worldwide: Oxfam Canada

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  • OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau’s self-proclaimed feminist government could and should be doing more to address gender-specific challenges faced by female refugees affected by wars and displacement.

    That’s according to a new report from Oxfam Canada, which takes a close look at how Canada provides international humanitarian aid and the gaps that exist when it comes to outcomes for women and girls in refugee situations.

    Canada has made great strides when it comes to making gender equality and feminism a key priority of its domestic and foreign policy agenda, but more can be done to help women being disproportionately affected by global crisis, the report says.

    “Currently, Canada’s international assistance funding is out of step with its ambition to be a world leader on gender equality and feminist aid and foreign policy,” the report states.

    “The fact that Canada’s international assistance spending is at a near historical low, merely reaching 0.26 per cent of gross national income, as compared to the UN aid target of 0.7 per cent, undermines its credibility and leadership on the international stage.”

    The study zeros in on areas where women in conflict zones are not getting the help they need or where efforts to improve gender equality in these areas are not being fully realized.

    Some of the findings are unsettling, including a statistic showing 25 to 50 per cent of maternal deaths in refugee camps are caused by unsafe abortions and related complications.

    This is due, in part, to a lack of adequate access to sexual and reproductive health services, which are often seen as a “second-tier” priority when people are forced to flee their homes due to conflict.

    “Our argument is that services are totally life-saving when you consider, for example, that last year 500 women and girls died during emergencies every single day from pregnancy and childbirth complications simply because sexual and reproductive health and rights weren’t a priority,” said Brittany Lambert, a women’s rights policy and advocacy specialist with Oxfam Canada.

    “These things should be prioritized from the very inception of these humanitarian responses and could save many lives.”

    Oxfam Canada also published findings last month following a series of interviews, focus groups and surveys of hundreds of women and men from the host and refugee communities in Bangladesh, suggesting Rohingya women and girls who survived genocide in Myanmar are facing new risks in refugee camps, notably when it comes to access to water and sanitation facilities.

    Some women are choosing to go hungry and thirsty and are restricting their children’s diets in order to limit their trips to these facilities to reduce risks of physical and sexual abuse and harassment, according to this research. 

    The organization is calling on Canada to develop a 10-year plan to achieve the United Nations aid target of 0.7 per cent of national income.

    It also wants Canada to establish a dedicated pool of 15 per cent of all its humanitarian aid to be specifically earmarked to address the needs of women and girls.

    “Right now the way Canada’s funding system works is that humanitarian assistance is aligned with the global humanitarian system priorities, which are things like shelter, water, food — but gender is not one of those categories,” Lambert said.

    “Women’s needs can be inserted into these categories but there are really limited funding opportunities to actually undertake programming that address gender inequality as a main goal so that’s why we’re calling for a stand alone pool of funding where Canada could actually fund this kind of feminist programming.”

    In addition, Oxfam Canada says the Trudeau government should take firmer action to ensure weapons do not end up in the hands of those who commit gender-based violence.

    Several international aid agencies, including Amnesty International, have said loopholes exist in Canada’s arms export policy that would allow arms sales to the United States — weapons which could end up being transferred to countries that abuse human rights.

    The government has announced several measures aimed at championing women’s issues both at home and abroad, including launching a feminist international assistance policy and a national action plan on women and government. Canada also disbursed more than $68 million in humanitarian assistance to support sexual and reproductive health needs in 2017-18.

    In addition, Canada has committed to increase its foreign aid effort by $2 billion over five years, which will bring total assistance to nearly $6 billion by 2021, says Global Affairs Canada.

    “We agree with the report that we need to ensure that the voices of civil society partners and affected communities, particularly women and girls, are included throughout the humanitarian response,” said the statement from Global Affairs Canada.

    “That is why Canada expects its partners to directly consult affected communities, and ensure that women and girls, in particular, are involved in the design of initiatives and decision-making processes that affect their lives.”

     

    —Follow @ReporterTeresa on Twitter.

     

    Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press


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    MP pays tribute to baby daughter on pregnancy and infant loss remembrance day

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  • OTTAWA — Conservative MP Tom Kmiec choked back tears as he recalled his infant daughter in a heartfelt speech in the House of Commons to mark national pregnancy and infant loss remembrance day.

    Kmiec’s daughter Lucy-Rose died in August when she was only 39 days old.

    MPs from all parties struggled to maintain their own composure as an emotional Kmiec used a member’s statement as an opportunity to thank the medical staff who cared for Lucy-Rose, the neighbours who brought his family food and support, and the parliamentarians who sent their condolences.

    Lucy-Rose died of Trisomy 13, a genetic condition that leaves babies with severe intellectual and physical disabilities. Also called Patau syndrome, only five to 10 per cent of babies diagnosed with it will live past their first year.

    “On this day, let us grieve with the parents who have lost a child, as well as the siblings who lost a lifelong best friend,” Kmiec said.

    Speaker Geoff Regan said he hoped Kmiec could see that love and support from the parliamentary family was around him.

    About one in five pregnancies in Canada ends in miscarriage.

    Congenital malformations and chromosomal abnormalities are the leading cause of death for babies under the age of one year. In 2016, 404 infants died of a congenital abnormality, according to Statistics Canada.

    In all, more than 1,700 babies died before their first birthday in 2016, 75 per cent of them before they were one month old.

    On Tuesday, the House of Commons human resources committee is starting to study the impact on parents of the death of an infant, including possible updates to parental leave programs and benefits.

    The study comes after a motion from Conservative MP Blake Richards, who identified shortcomings in the parental leave program when it comes to being compassionate to parents who are grieving.

    Kmiec urged MPs to hug their kids the next time they go home.

    “If they are old and have their own (kids), hug them anyway, even if they protest,” he said. “Life is too short and none of us knows when our time will come.”

    The Canadian Press


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