Robert Fife, Ottawa Bureau Chief
OTTAWA - Denis Coderre, the Immigration Minister, has asked for a review of Canada's policy of deporting elderly Nazi war criminals to avoid costly and time-consuming judicial appeals, government officials say.
Senior officials in the Immigration Department say the review will focus on whether Nazi war criminals should be stripped of their Canadian citizenship without being deported.
"The minister has asked for scenarios and asked for a review of the policy. For instance should we revoke the citizenship but not deport them ... because kicking them out of the country is the judicial process and this costs a lot of money," an official said.
"But we don't want to let any of these people off the hook or condone their actions. Revoking citizenship doesn't cost a lot of money but it would still be serious because they would not be entitled to all the benefits of Canadian citizenship. That is a big option."
Mark Dunn, communications director for Mr. Coderre, confirmed a review is underway but refused to discuss options under consideration. He said the review will also deal with the pursuit of modern-day war criminals, not just those from the Second World War.
Canadian Jewish groups reacted with anger, insisting the current policy of denaturalization and deportation should not be abandoned, especially in what they say is a worldwide climate of rising anti-Semitism.
Frank Dimant, executive vice-president of B'nai Brith Canada, said stripping Nazi war criminals of their citizenship and not deporting them would create sympathy for them. "It is preposterous to think that someone would entertain the thought of removing the person's citizenship and allowing them residency in this country -- a mass murderer to walk free in this country," he said.
"We'll see these people who are now elderly and not being able to get medical care and there will be an outpouring of sympathy for them. I don't think people who participated in mass murder should be given any consideration or any comfort in Canada," Mr. Dimant said.
The government shifted its focus from criminal prosecution to revocation of citizenship followed by deportation in 1995 after the Supreme Court of Canada rendered convictions virtually impossible by allowing for a defence that the accused was just following orders.
The Liberal government opted for a back-door removal strategy by attempting to strip naturalized Canadians of their citizenship and deport them for lying about their wartime activities.
The strategy has cost tens of millions of dollars and officials complain about the lack of success in deporting suspected war criminals because of long court appeals. Officials also say the passage of time has made it increasingly difficult to obtain admissible evidence against people suspected of Nazi atrocities.
"Is it in Canada's best interest to prosecute old men that don't go anywhere because these guys can appeal?" an official asked, saying the money could be better spent on trying to deport modern-day war criminals. A federal report estimated that there are 1,343 modern-war criminals living in Canada, most of them claiming refugee status.
Ottawa has launched 17 court cases against alleged Nazi criminals in the last six years, attempting to revoke their citizenship and deport them. In the 11 concluded cases, six defendants died before the process could be completed, two left the country voluntarily and three successfully defended themselves.
Three alleged Nazis criminals have lost their citizenship and are currently fighting deportation. Only one man, Jacob Luitjens, has been successfully deported. That happened in 1992.
Another option in the Immigration Department review would be to continue with the policy of deportation but remove the decision-making power from the federal Cabinet and turn it over to a judge to "depoliticize" the process.
"It should be a judge who will revoke and deport that individual at the same time instead of having another [Cabinet] process," an official said. "A judge would be better qualified to know if there is a legal case for a successive deportation."
The Chrétien Cabinet has faced pressure from some Liberal MPs, including Andrew Telegdi, the MP for Kitchener-Waterloo, who has objected to the process of denaturalizing and deporting suspected war criminals.
Mr. Telegdi has complained that the final determination for revoking citizenship and deportation should rest with the courts and not with Cabinet, which meets in secret and is not trained in legal decision-making. He has strongly opposed Cabinet's decision to seek the deportation of Helmut Oberlander, a constituent, who was found by a Federal Court judge to have failed to inform immigration officials upon entering Canada in the 1950s that he had worked as an interpreter for a Nazi death squad.
But Keith Landy, president of the Canadian Jewish Congress, said the Cabinet is trying to duck its responsibility.
"If the government is now saying it lacks the political will to follow through on these decisions, it would be shameful. How can you have credibility to pursue modern-day terrorists and modern-day war criminals when you are turning your back when you don't have the political will?" he asked.
"When you are a Cabinet minister, there are clearly responsibilities that go with it and sometimes the hard decisions need to be made, but I hardly think it would be a hard decision once they have recommendations of judges."
The government has investigated more than 1,500 suspected Nazi collaborators in Canada since 1987, including 883 identified by Justice Jules Deschênes in his 1986 report on Nazi war criminals. His report led to an amendment to the Criminal Code to allow criminal prosecutions in Canada for war crimes committed firstname.lastname@example.org