Following the Second World War approximately 2,000 Nazi war criminals slipped into Canada after failing to advise Canadian officials of their participation in the mass killing of innocent people. Their presence, while suspected, was ignored by the Canadian government until 1985. It was then that Brian Mulroney requested that an independent inquiry be conducted in response to accusations that Canada was being used as a safe haven by Nazi war criminals, including Joseph Mengele. Jules Deschênes, a Justice of the Court of Appeal of Quebec, was placed in charge of what came to be known as the Deschênes Commission. The Commission was asked to determine how many Nazi war criminals were residing in Canada and what legal procedures should be pursued in regards to their presence. It was recommended that the Canadian Criminal Code, the Canadian Citizenship and Immigration Act, as well as the Canadian Extradition Act be amended in order to simplify the process of bringing these individuals (either criminally or civilly) to justice. The Canada War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity Act was passed in 1987 and provided Canadian courts with the jurisdiction to prosecute war criminals residing in Canada. However, in 1995, after eight years and not a single criminal conviction, Canada decided to rely solely on civil remedies when processing WWII related cases.

Operation Last Chance, a Simon Wiesenthal Center project, presents a yearly report card grading members of the international community on their efforts to investigate and prosecute Nazi war criminals. The group’s first report, written in 2002, granted Canada a “B”. Most shamefully however, Canada has failed this year’s report (April 2006-March 2007). The country was graded an F-2, a title it shares with, among others, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Australia. The appointment of this grade describes a country that has shown an absolute “Failure in Practice” and is further presented as one in which “there are no legal obstacles to investigation and prosecution … but whose efforts (or lack thereof) have resulted in complete failure during the period under review, primarily due to the absence of political will to proceed and/or a lack of the requisite resources and/or expertise.”

The United States on the other hand has expressed adamant political will in the prosecution of Nazi war criminals and was duly awarded an “A”. The paucity of Canada’s efforts is emphasized in contrasting figures with those of the United States, the only other country that relies on civil proceedings to prosecute WWII criminals. Since 2001 Canada has convicted 3 Nazi war criminals while the United States has convicted 34. Canada has filed 4 new cases while the United States has filed 30; and since 1995, when Canada opted to seek justice through civil remedies, the Canadian government has only denaturalized 8 defendants – not one of whom has been deported. Konrad Kalejs, the only person deported since 1995, was never a Canadian citizen.

The crimes committed during the Second World War occurred over 60 years ago. This passage of time can sometimes lead one to question whether it is worth the effort to seek justice.

Example: Helmut Oberlander

Helmut Oberlander is currently wading through the Canadian justice system after his citizenship was revoked for a second time on May 24, 2007. In November of 2009, the decision to revoke his citizenship was sent back to cabinet for a review because it didn’t consider Oberlander’s contention that he was conscripted under duress. The government had 60 days to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada but has let the time period lapse. Ottawa has not yet said whether or not they will revoke his citizenship for a third time. Ottawa has been trying to deport Oberlander since 1995 because of his involvement with a Nazi death squad responsible for the murder of 1 million civilians in the occupied Soviet Union. Einsantzkommando10a killed babies, children, women, men and those categorized by the Nazis as being physically or mentally infirmed.

If murderers such as Oberlander are not prosecuted, what precedent is set for the future? How man more Oberlanders or Rwandan Genocidaires are we prepared to allow into the safety of our borders? As Canadians, we have to ask ourselves if we are prepared to share buses, playgrounds, offices or community centers with mass murderers. These people may not be an immediate threat to one’s safety, but they are certainly a threat to the morals and values held by this country as a whole.

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