By Michael Levitt
Can you imagine a former Nazi death squad member living in your community? This seemingly unlikely scenario has been playing out in the city of Waterloo, Ont. for decades. Helmut Oberlander has been living in the area since he lied his way into Canada in 1954, after failing to disclose his active role in a Nazi death squad, Einsatzkommando 10a (EK10a), which was responsible for the murder of more than 40,000 people, the majority of whom were Jewish. By 1970 he was under investigation for war crimes but close to five decades later, he is still here, living freely in Canada. Oberlander’s continued presence is an affront to our values as Canadians and to the memory of the six million Jews and millions of others who died as a result of Nazi horrors enabled by individuals like him.
After learning that Oberlander had hidden his Nazi past from immigration officials, in 1995 the Government of Canada initiated denaturalization and deportation proceedings against him. In the 25 years since the start of this process, Oberlander’s attorneys have filed a long series of appeals and petitions. He has been stripped of his Canadian citizenship four times; three times, the decision was overturned on appeal. The latest delay came earlier this year, when his lawyer filed a motion to permanently stay the immigration proceedings against his client, citing “exceptional circumstances,” including Oberlander’s age and poor health.
If age and poor health are considered exceptional circumstances to justify impunity for Hitler’s enablers, it is worth a reminder that the victims of the EK10a death squad were cruelly robbed of any chance to live their lives and have families of their own. Why should we be showing compassion to a man who was complicit in such horrific acts? Thankfully, just last week the Federal Court once again ruled against Oberlander, striking down his latest application to permanently stay the proceedings against him. But to our country’s great shame, his legal manipulations are likely not yet over.
Canadians should be furious about this case and the fact that Oberlander still resides in Canada as a free man. The ongoing legal manoeuvres are a cynical attempt to undermine justice and run out the clock on the legal process for as long as Oberlander is still breathing. As a known Nazi death squad member, Oberlander should not be given the privilege of living out his last days in Canada. We have to ask ourselves, why has our legal system allowed this travesty of justice to stain Canada’s reputation for so long?