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Jewish officials seek retraction

Waterloo MP's criticism of Ottawa in Oberlander case 'grossly offensive,' congress says Monday May 7, 2001
Frank Etherington
RECORD STAFF

Canadian Jews will urge Prime Minister Jean Chretien to suspend a Kitchener-Waterloo MP from the caucus unless he retracts statements that compare government deportation procedures to those of a Nazi-style regime.

Andrew Telegdi's comments Friday about the case of Helmut Oberlander, 77, and his suggestion politicians act like Stalin or Hitler when they make decisions to withdraw citizenship sparked criticism from Jews and heated statements from local German-Canadian groups during the weekend.

While spokesmen for two German groups painted the Congress as a "minority of fanatics," the president of Kitchener's Beth Jacob Synagogue, Simon Adler, said Telegdi should apologize or resign for making "shocking" comments that can provoke violence from anti-Semitic "lunatics."

Yesterday, Telegdi clarified his comments but won't apologize or resign for defending due legal process and the right of appeal for anyone facing deportation.

He said he still believes Canada's deportation procedures are similar to those in Stalinist or Nazi totalitarian regimes and have no place in a country that prides itself on having a strong Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

"Obviously, I know very well we're not the Soviet Union under Stalin or the Nazis under Hitler," he said.

"We're totally different (because), in those regimes, you would be shot or hung . . . and we're not like that."

The MP said he was illustrating what he sees as the injustice of Canada's deportation procedures and pointing out "Hitler and totalitarian regimes have always messed around with citizenship . . . a very touchy issue that has been abused in the past."

Keith Landy, incoming president of the Canadian Jewish Congress, and Bernie Farber, executive director, were at a meeting of 1,000 Canadian congress representatives in Toronto yesterday when they issued a statement urging Telegdi to retract his comments.

Landy said it was "grossly offensive" to compare the six-year legal path Ottawa has followed as it tried to deal with Oberlander with "arbitrary and murderous outrages by the Nazis.

"The kind of irresponsible and inflammatory rhetoric used by Mr. Telegdi both with regard to his own government and his insulting remarks about the Canadian Jewish community is clearly unacceptable from a federal MP," Landy said. "Failure to retract these shameful comments should result in his expulsion from the Liberal caucus and the Liberal party."

Asked about reactions to his comments, Telegdi -- who escaped Hungary with his parents, brother and sister -- said: "I came through one minefield to escape, and I guess I'll survive this one."

He said he strongly rejects any suggestion that control of citizenship should be a political instead of a judicial act.

The MP said he's certain the Jewish Congress would agree if it involved politically-correct, Canadian laws that resulted in deportation or exclusion of Jews from Canada during and before the Second World War.

He said he's also sure the congress would oppose Canadian laws that resulted in a Chinese head tax and the internment of Japanese Canadians.

Last week, a spokesman for Immigration Minister Elinor Caplan said she will recommend Oberlander be stripped of his citizenship as a first step toward deportation.

Justice Andrew MacKay of the Federal Court of Canada ruled last year there was no evidence Oberlander committed war crimes but found the Waterloo man misled officials when he came to Canada by failing to disclose his service as an interpreter with a notorious Nazi death squad.

There is no appeal of the deportation decision. That angers Telegdi, who wants the law changed so judges, not politicians, have final say on withdrawing citizenship and deportation.

The MP made that right of appeal a personal crusade by resigning as Caplan's parliamentary secretary last year because he couldn't support his government's policy on deportation.

Telegdi said he has more reason than most to hold war criminals fully accountable for their actions because his stepfather was Jewish, survived the Holocaust and fled Hungary to escape anti-Jewish activities. He wants to see legal process followed and have deportations done in a way that protects human rights of all immigrants.

"If (Paul) Bernardo or Clifford Olsen have a right to appeal, so does Oberlander," he said.

Telegdi said it's "unseemly" for the Jewish Congress to oppose Oberlander's right of appeal and accused the group of being the "main protagonists" of unjust deportation procedures.

In Kitchener, Adler, a lawyer and member of B'nai Brith, said the MP's comments that the Jewish Congress is the only group supporting Oberlander's deportation ignores the fact the government, Liberal party and B'nai Brith also support the move.

Adler said Telegdi should remember those considered undesirable in a Nazi regime were killed and there can never be a comparison between that slaughter and Oberlander's deportation.

"I don't think I have read or heard comments by an MP that were more shocking," he said. "The whole idea behind these comments is Jews have too much power and are deliberately attacking Canada at large or some ethnic group in particular. If that's what he meant to say . . . he should resign as MP."

Erhard Matthaes, Kitchener president of the Trans-Canadian Alliance of German Canadians, supported Telegdi and dismissed the 360,000-member Canadian Jewish Congress as "a small group of fanatics" who do not represent the Jewish community.

Matthaes said he sees no difference between the federal government ruling Oberlander can no longer be a Canadian and Hitler proclaiming Jews could not be Germans. Matthaes and Paul Tuerr, vice-president of the German-Canadian Congress, said German and Jewish communities have, for decades, lived peacefully with each other in Waterloo Region and across Canada.

But they said pressure by the Jewish Congress to achieve Oberlander's deportation works against Canadian democracy and creates hatred and ill feeling between the two communities.

"Germans want to live in peace . . . and don't want to get into this, but this is too much, we cannot tolerate these fanatics," Matthaes said.

"This is not just Oberlander . . . we stand for equal justice for all Canadians and so does Telegdi," Tuerr said.

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