Canada’s dis­mal record on fight­ing Nazi war crim­i­nals

The Canadian Jewish News (Toronto) - - News -

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.

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