|JUSTICE / The daughter of a Toronto man accused of being a war criminal asks what happened to the principle of being considered innocent unless proved guilty.|
|On Dec. 16, a news item from The Canadian Press appeared in this newspaper: "The federal government is moving to deport two more suspected Nazi war criminals for not telling authorities about their pasts when they arrived in Canada. The Canadian Jewish Congress yesterday said the men ... [included] Wasyl Odynsky, 73, of Toronto. Justice Minister Anne McLellan's office confirmed that documents have been filed in Federal Court seeking to deport the pair."|
I did not have a merry Christmas. I doubt this will be a happy new year. I blame Ottawa.
On Aug. 24 I marched joyfully through Toronto's Bloor West Village, celebrating Ukrainian Independence Day. So did mayor-elect Mel Lastman and thousands of others, my father Wasyl among them. A few days later our family's nightmare began.
Two investigators arrived at my parents' door. They wanted to know what Dad had done during the war. He's a law-abiding man, a Ukrainian patriot. He has nothing to hide. So he spoke to them — without legal counsel present. I now know he shouldn't have. His interrogators didn't bring an interpreter. His English is fine for daily life but not good enough for a hostile interview. So I say Canada failed Dad that day.
Why? Think about how this country's Immigration and Refugee Board treats refugee claimants. Compare that to what the RCMP did to my father, a citizen and taxpayer of 50 years. When a person suspected of being the kind of criminal whom we might reasonably wish to exclude from our country comes before the board, a lawyer and interpreter are present, free of charge, and friends and family members can attend in support. My 73-year-old father had the RCMP arrive unexpectedly, confusing him, scaring my mother. The Mounties will say they were just doing their jobs, on orders from above. Odd how they don't accept excuses like that from others.
On Sept. 24 my father got a letter from the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Lucienne Robillard. She wants to denaturalize and deport him. Is it because he's a war criminal? No. The Government of Canada has no evidence that would conclusively prove in a criminal court that my father is guilty of any wrongdoing during the Second World War. You think a person is innocent until proven guilty? Ottawa doesn't.
Again, I object. Every week dozens of people from around the world claim refugee status here. Ms. Robillard's appointees let many of them in, often after only the most perfunctory of hearings, set up in their favour. Reportedly there are real war criminals among these "refugees," from many of the Third World's festering conflicts. I'm sure some good people are getting in too, a few of whom may really need our country's protection. I am all for Canada being a safe haven. But I wonder why the refugees of today are given the benefit of the doubt in their hearings when my father won't be.
His story is simple. He was 19 when the Nazis arrested him and forcefully led him and others away from his village. Those who resisted were shot. He is not a murderer, nor was he ever a Nazi. He was, and remains, a victim of Nazi Germany's occupation of Ukraine. [Most choose to forget what he knows from experience, namely that Ukraine lost more of its people than any other nation in occupied Europe.]
My dad lived in a refugee camp until he arrived in Halifax in . No one questioned him about what he did in the war. The immigration officers, he recalls, were more interested in his health. Since he was a fit young man they let him in to work on a farm near Markham, Ont., where he paid off the cost of his passage. My mother, Maria, came 5 months later. Without complaint she also did a year's farm work.
That's the kind of refugee immigrants this country got then — people who went where the country needed them, who reimbursed Canada for the costs involved. Debts paid, my parents moved to Toronto. He took a night job as a truck loader. She worked in a factory and kept our happy home. They had three children. I was their first.
We went to high school in Scarborough. Dad was an active member of the Brotherhood of Ukrainian Catholics. Our family grew. Dad and Mom became grandparents. They raised us to be proud of our Ukrainian heritage, and we are, but they also taught us to be even prouder of being Canadian.
I was. But now I wonder why Ottawa is trying to strip away the citizenship of a man who proved to be a good father and grandfather, whose boss knew him to be a hard worker, an honest citizen who contributed to Canada for longer than I have been alive?
Canada has become Dad's country. There is nothing for my parents in Ukraine. Yet the government wants to turn them out of their home, without giving him a fair trial. Does this mean that there are, in reality, two categories of Canadian citizens — those born here and those who come here — and that the latter's citizenship can never really be certain? Not exactly a prescription for nation-building, is it?
If Ms. Robillard's bureaucrats have serious evidence proving my dad is a war criminal, our family wants that documentation disclosed in a Canadian criminal court. Dad says he stands ready to be punished if Ottawa can prove he committed an atrocity. He has the courage of an honest man wrongly accused of crimes he did not commit.
But I don't think the government will have the fortitude to take up our family's challenge. I predict Ottawa will instead cater to those who orchestrated the hysteria about alleged Nazi war criminals in our midst, advocates of denaturalization and deportation who prefer rhetoric to evidence. I don't. I can't. My father's life is on the line. He is not going anywhere without a fight. And if he is not allowed a fair trial in Canada, this is one fight that won't end with him. It will continue for generations. Ottawa can count on that.