Kitchener-Waterloo Record | 25May2007 | Brian Caldwell

Helmut Oberlander no longer a citizen

Federal cabinet strips citizenship for second time in 12-year battle

(May 25, 2007)

The federal government has stripped Helmut Oberlander of his citizenship for the second time over his involvement with a notorious Nazi death squad during the Second World War.

Announced yesterday by Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, the move comes almost three years after the retired Waterloo developer had his Canadian citizenship restored by the Federal Court of Appeal. He lost it for the first time in 2001 after a federal judge found, on a balance of probabilities, that Oberlander lied about his membership in the infamous unit when he emigrated from Germany in 1954.

Cabinet also revoked the citizenship of Jacob Fast, who was found in 2003 to have collaborated with Nazi police in Ukraine.

Fast was also found to have hidden his German citizenship when he came to Canada in 1947.

Both men now face deportation hearings, the next step in the government's approach to suspected war criminals.

"Canada will not become a safe haven for anyone who has been involved in war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide," Nicholson said yesterday.

Oberlander was first targeted for deportation in 1995, starting years of debate and legal wrangling that is still likely far from over.

Bernie Farber, executive director of the Ontario branch of the Canadian Jewish Congress, praised the decision by cabinet and said he is hopeful Oberlander, 83, will be kicked out of the country within a year.

"I would like to have seen it about 10 years ago," he said.

But Eric Hafemann, a lawyer who has long represented Oberlander, said the cabinet decision was flawed -- as the appeal court ruled the first revocation was -- and he will win a second reprieve.

"He's going nowhere," he said. "He never will go anywhere."

Oberlander could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Hafemann said he will seek a judicial review of cabinet's revocation decision, which was actually made a week ago, but not announced until yesterday.

A similar review led to the return of Oberlander's citizenship the first time after the Federal Court of Appeal ruled cabinet erred by not explaining how he fit government policy on suspected war criminals or taking into account his "50 years of irreproachable life" in Canada since coming here.

"I'm not worried about it, but I am absolutely livid that the prime minister . . . of this country will, for political reasons and for political gain, harm a decent, innocent citizen like Oberlander," Hafemann said.

There was also strong criticism from the German-Canadian Congress, which lobbied to have the case against Oberlander dropped while Jewish groups pushed for it to proceed.

"He has been an immaculate citizen," said Tony Bergmeier, president of the congress. "Now in his old age to persecute him is just outrageous."

Oberlander and his supporters maintain he did nothing wrong after he was conscripted by the Nazis to work as an interpreter while living in occupied Ukraine when he was 17.

There is no evidence he directly participated in war crimes or atrocities while serving with a mobile squad that murdered at least 23,000 civilians, mostly Jews, from 1941 to 1943.

Instead, a federal judge found he was an auxiliary member of the unit and did not disclose his involvement when applying to come to Canada after the war.

Kitchener-Waterloo Liberal MP Andrew Telegdi, who has long demanded a complete reworking of the Citizenship Act, said the Oberlander case is a "total abuse of power" because judges, not politicians, should make revocation decisions.

The government has stripped 54 people of their citizenship since 1977, including seven cases related to the war.

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