Record (Kitchener-Waterloo) | Jun. 03, 2004 | Brian Caldwell and Armina Ligaya

MPs back Oberlander

Region's Liberals are unanimous: it's time for Ottawa to drop case

All four Liberal MPs in Waterloo Region say the federal government should leave Helmut Oberlander alone.

Ottawa has been trying to deport the retired Waterloo developer for nine years for lying about his service with a notorious Nazi death squad when he emigrated from Germany in 1954.

After a controversial decision by the Federal Court of Appeal this week restored Oberlander's citizenship, the area's Liberal politicians agree it's time to drop the case.

"The government should apologize and wish him happy retirement," Cambridge MP Janko Peric said.

The unanimous position of local MPs is at odds with the government options outlined by a Justice Department lawyer after the Appeal Court decision.

Although the ruling is still under review, Peter Vita said key officials aren't even considering abandoning the long-running battle to deport Oberlander.

Instead, he said, the government is weighing whether to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada or refer the case back to cabinet while correcting procedural flaws criticized in the recent ruling.

Vita said a decision isn't expected until well after the June 28 federal election, which could change membership in cabinet or result in an entirely new government.

Oberlander, 80, lost his citizenship in 2001 after a Federal Court of Canada judge found he lied about serving as an interpreter with a mobile killing unit responsible for the execution of thousands of civilians, mostly Jews, in Ukraine from 1941 to 1943.

In unanimously returning his citizenship this week, three Appeal Court judges found cabinet didn't show it had considered Oberlander's personal circumstances, including "50 years of irreproachable life in Canada,'' or explain how he fit government policy for denaturalization and deportation.

The ruling outraged Jewish organizations that have taken a keen interest in the case, while Oberlander and his supporters, including German groups, celebrated what they see as a victory.

There is no division among sitting politicians in Waterloo Region, all of whom are veteran Liberals.

Lynn Myers, MP for the old riding of Waterloo-Wellington, said, "It's time to let Mr. Oberlander live in peace."

Karen Redman, the Liberal incumbent in Kitchener Centre, said the government should not appeal and should concentrate instead on revising laws on citizenship revocation.

"Mr. Oberlander was not convicted of any crimes,'' she said. "I thought that revoking his citizenship was harsh."

The power to revoke citizenship rests with cabinet.

Andrew Telegdi, MP for Kitchener-Waterloo, has argued for years that such decisions should be made by the courts, not politicians, with a full range of appeal options available.

He said the recent ruling "opens the door for us to redouble our effort" to get an unfair process changed.

"This will provide real justice and equality of citizenship for naturalized Canadians," Telegdi said.

Peric, who has also been an outspoken critic of a process that allows politicians to revoke citizenship, had the strongest comments in light of the Appeal Court ruling.

"From Day 1, there was no evidence whatsoever (against Oberlander)," he said. "You can't take citizenship away with no evidence that a crime was committed."

Among federal election candidates in the Kitchener-Waterloo riding, where Oberlander lives with his wife, Margret, there is also a great deal of agreement, with only Edwin Laryea of the NDP arguing Ottawa should keep trying to deport him.

"I believe the world is watching and for Canada to do nothing would taint our reputation as a just society,'' said Laryea, who favours sending the case back to cabinet.

Steven Strauss of the Conservatives and Pauline Richards of the Green party both said the government should accept the ruling and close its case against Oberlander.

Frank Ellis of the Christian Heritage Party said he isn't familiar with the case and has no opinion on what the government should do next.

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