Canada’s dismal record on fighting Nazi war criminals
beyond a reasonable doubt, the Crown’s onus in these cases was on demonstrating that the suspect had lied or withheld information about his war-time activities and subsequently entered Canada illegally, and fraudulently obtained citizenship.
Thus, Canada’s lead Jewish advocacy organization, the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC), hoped to see numerous civil cases brought forward, while the actuarial tables still held out the chance of success.
CJC understood that the Crown would likely lose some of the cases brought forward, which were, after all, difficult to put together and prosecute, given the length of time that had elapsed, the failing memories of witnesses and suspects, and the challenges of adducing evidence. But if the Crown launched numerous cases, as was happening in the United States, there would surely be enough successes and these cases would become part of the routine administration of justice in Canada.
The CJC fully understood that no punishment could ever be commensurate with the magnitude of the heinous crimes committed by Hitler’s henchmen. Nevertheless, a vigorous stand against the perpetrators and enablers of war crimes and crimes against humanity would have profound consequences, both for the present and the future. Such cases would mete out at least some measure of justice, while protecting the integrity of Canadian citizenship and providing a jurisprudential record, together with the moral authority, to ensure that Canada was not a haven for the war criminals and genocidaires who would arrive here from contemporary conflicts.
In the end, the Crown only launched some 20-odd Nazi-era cases and even where they secured the authority to denaturalize, there were too often lengthy delays in taking action that led to suspects dying, leaving voluntarily or having their cases dropped altogether.
The most egregious failure is the case of Helmut Oberlander, one of Hitler’s elite enablers, who served as a translator with Einsatzkommando 10A (EK 10A), and who has fought a two decade-long battle to keep his citizenship and remain in Canada.
Regrettably, it is the courts that over the years have often been responsible for many of the delays, with years of lengthy continuances, layers of appeal, extended periods before decisions were announced and rulings that often seemed to be more concerned with procedural minutiae than fundamental justice.
Were he alive today, Deschênes would likely be profoundly disappointed by how little was accomplished. But he might at least be pleased to see that Canada has taken some important steps against individuals who have committed war crimes or genocide in modern conflicts. Deportation cases have successfully been launched against perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide and refugee claims made by former members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard have been denied.
Since “never again” sadly seems to have become “again and again,” at least we can take some comfort from that.
Bernie M. Farber and Eric Vernon were, respectively, the CEO and director of government relations for the now-defunct Canadian Jewish Congress. They both worked on Nazi war crimes cases for over two decades.
Helmut Oberlander, top. On the left, demonstrations against Nazi war criminals in Canada in 1997.