Aug. 24, 2001
Canada and war criminals
War crimes get more attention
Federal government gets increasingly vigilant on prosecution and
PAT JOHNSON REPORTER
Canada is focusing more attention on suspected war criminals in
our midst and that is gaining approval from Jewish human rights
agencies, though most acknowledge that more could be done.
The federal government issued a self-congratulatory report this
summer, outlining its successes in dealing with the issue of war
criminals in this country or attempting to enter this country. Though
most war crimes issues faced by Canada now originate from such current
flashpoints as the Balkans and central Africa, there remain at least
two unresolved cases of suspected Nazi war criminals who reside
in this country.
The study, which was released to media in July jointly by the Department
of Justice and by Citizenship and Immigration Canada, lauded the
government's three-year-old War Crimes Program for getting to the
root of the problem.
The two government departments, as well as the RCMP, were given
a budget of $46.8 million to investigate and bring new cases to
trial, as well as to investigate allegations of war crimes activities.
The government has several legal avenues available, including stripping
citizenship and extraditing alleged criminals to face trial.
The former was used last month in the case of Helmut Oberlander,
one case that has been of particular concern to the Jewish community.
The federal cabinet opted to revoke Oberlander's citizenship on
the grounds that he failed to disclose his wartime record as a member
of a Nazi death squad when he originally entered Canada and sought
citizenship. Despite the positive outcome, activists maintain that
the process moved too slowly and that the next step - deportation
- should not be allowed to take as long.
Closer to home, a Vancouver-area man has been found guilty by Italian
courts for murder and torture during the Second World War. Vancouver
Sun reporter Rick Ouston covered the trial, which included testimony
from more than a dozen survivors of the Bolzano concentration camp.
The court heard that Seifert shot, beat, starved and tortured inmates
to death. The detailed testimony of the witnesses left the court
with only one doubt: "... the total inadequacy of the term
'cruelty' in order to describe [what Seifert did]."
Seifert continues legal proceedings in an effort to avoid being
sent to Italy to face sentencing.
Though those two cases are of particular concern to the Jewish
community, the overall efficiency of the federal war crimes strategy
saw 644 people denied entry into this country in the year ending
March 31, 2001. In the last 10 years, 1,566 people have been denied
entry due to war crimes-related allegations.
Also in the past year, 42 people were removed from Canada - bringing
the total for the decade to 187.
Frank Dimant, executive vice-president of B'nai Brith Canada, said
Canada remains a destination not just for war criminals, but also
for agitators, such as those who were recently discovered to be
operating Islamic terrorist Web sites from this country.
"Canada is too easy a country to come into by undesirables
who want to come here to spread hatred," he said.
Although the government is taking more action against war criminals
now - and preventing many more from entering - perpetrators of Nazi
crimes have mostly been able to live out their last years without
"Obviously, the whole history of the pursuit of Nazi war criminals
was not successful in this country," said Dimant.
It is not only that the criminals have been dying or becoming too
infirm to face justice, he said, but also that the witnesses who
would provide the cases against them have succumbed to the years.
Nevertheless, it is imperative to bring those war criminals who
remain to justice, he added.
"There should never be an amnesty for mass murderers,"
Dimant said. Nisson Goldman, chair of Canadian Jewish Congress,
Pacific Region, said any action is a good sign.
"The last three years, they've intensified their efforts,"
Goldman said of Canada's federal government. "Before, nothing
happened. These people lived in Canada with impunity."
Public agitation and quiet lobbying by groups like CJC and B'nai
Brith Canada have to be given much of the credit for the increased
vigilance, he said.
Goldman, a Vancouver lawyer, said he would like to see Canada join
the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Were this country
a member, we would be able to send accused war criminals to the
court, bypassing the many layered appeals available in Canada to
suspects who wish to evade their accusers.
While there are younger and middle-aged people from Rwanda or Serbia
who are accused of war crimes, all those who perpetrated crimes
during the Second World War are aged. Critics of the war crimes
strategy argue that they should be allowed to remain here in their
last years; that time will play the ultimate judge. But Goldman
said there is a necessity to bring these cases to trial and not
allow suspected war criminals to die in Canada.
"We need closure," he said. "I think we have to
remember the suffering of our ancestors."
The quest for justice for war criminals is not one of vengeance
or retribution, he said, but rather a necessity of justice that
has several effects.
It can act as a deterrent to current-day despots, he said. What
is more, though, is that it tells society that acts like those perpetrated
in the Holocaust will not be tolerated by civil societies.
"It puts a stamp of approbation on it," he said.