Kitchener-Waterloo Record | 02Jun2007 | Brian Caldwell

'We don't condone witch hunts'

Telegdi blasts action against Oberlander;
Goodyear confident it was the right decision


Members of Parliament in Waterloo Region are split over a controversial decision to strip Helmut Oberlander of his citizenship for the second time.

Liberal Andrew Telegdi took the hardest line in Oberlander's home riding of Kitchener-Waterloo, blasting the Conservative government for stubbornly going after the retired developer without any evidence he actually had a hand in war crimes.

"We don't condone witch hunts and that's what this is," said Telegdi, who has fought for years to take decisions on citizenship revocation out of the hands of politicians.

At the other end of the scale, Conservative Harold Albrecht sat squarely on the fence in the riding of Kitchener-Conestoga, declining to say whether he believes his government is justified in pursuing Oberlander more than 12 years after he was first targeted for deportation by Ottawa.

Albrecht said he is working to arrange a meeting with Justice Minister Rob Nicholson to allow upset members of the local German community to express their views directly to him.

"My personal opinions right now are not important," said Albrecht.

Oberlander, 83, first lost his citizenship in 2001 after a federal court judge found, on a balance of probabilities, that he lied about his membership in a notorious Nazi killing unit when he emigrated from Germany in 1954.

His citizenship was returned in 2004 by the Federal Court of Appeal, which found cabinet erred by not explaining how Oberlander fit government policy on suspected Second World War criminals or taking into account his "50 years of irreproachable life" in Canada.

That left the government with a decision to either abandon the long-running case or fix mistakes cited by the appeal court and strip Oberlander of his citizenship again, paving the way for his eventual deportation.

Late last month, cabinet opted for a second revocation -- likely setting the stage for several more years of legal battles.

Oberlander will seek a judicial review of the latest cabinet decision, the process that led to the restoration of his citizenship in 2004.

Conservative Gary Goodyear, the MP in Cambridge, said he urged key cabinet ministers to take a careful look at the sensitive case before acting and is confident his advice was heeded.

"I am comfortable that the right decision -- as tough as it was -- was made," he said.

Liberal Karen Redman of Kitchener Centre, also a critic of the current system that gives cabinet, not judges, the power to strip citizenship, said Oberlander should be left alone.

"Had he been convicted of war crimes, it would be an appropriate process to follow, but he has not been," she said.

The government didn't produce any evidence to show Oberlander directly participated in war crimes.

Instead, he was found by a judge to have been an auxiliary member of a mobile squad that murdered at least 23,000 civilians from 1941 to 1943, then failing to disclose his involvement when applying to come to Canada.

Oberlander maintains he did nothing wrong after he was conscripted by the Nazis to work as a 17-year-old interpreter when they occupied his native Ukraine.

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Record online survey: Should the Canadian government have revoked Helmut Oberlander's citizenship?

Total respondents: 149
Yes: 32 per cent (47)
No: 68 per cent (102)