CTV.ca | 11Jun2005 | News Staff

Feds to pursue deporting alleged Nazis: CTV

CTV News has learned Immigration Minister Joe Volpe will soon seek cabinet approval to remove the citizenship of five elderly, suspected Nazi war criminals and collaborators now living in Canada.

While the news is applauded by those who argue Ottawa's been too soft on war criminals in the past, others say the government shouldn't be getting involved after so many years have passed.

Among the people CTV News has learned are on Volpe's list is Helmut Oberlander.

When he was only 17, Oberlander served as an interpreter in the notorious Nazi killing squad, Einsatzkommando.

"He was a member of a unit whose job was to murder innocent people," said Bernie Farber, of the Canadian Jewish Congress. He explained the Jewish community's attitude: that Oberlander is a war criminal.

Oberlander has not escaped scrutiny in recent years, however, as his citizenship was revoked in 2001, after a federal court found that he lied about his role in the infamous Nazi police unit during the Second World War.

Oberlander, whose citizenship was subsequently reinstated, claimed he was never asked about his wartime activities when he came to Canada from Ukraine in 1954.

And besides, his lawyer says, the allegations are unfounded.

"To refer to Mr. Oberlander as a collaborator as anything to do with the Nazi regime is a lie," Eric Hafemann told CTV.

Sources tell CTV the government is nevertheless pursuing Oberlander, and will also seek to revoke the citizenship of accused Nazi collaborators Jacob Fast and Vladimir Katriuk.

Alleged labour camp guard Wasyl Odynsky and suspected SS member Michael Baumgartner are also on the list.

According to Farber, the specific role the men may have played in the German war effort is not so important as the system their work might have made possible.

"Whether they were translators or guards or whatever, they were enablers, they were part of the system of mass murder," Farber said.

If that's the case they should be punished, Farber said, regardless of how many years have passed.

"We ought not to reward old age," Farber told CTV. "The fact they have lived longer than their victims is not a reason to mete out justice."

Oberlander's lawyer disagrees however.

"To ask people to defend themselves 50, 60 years after an event is absurd," Hafemann told CTV News, adding that the government should leave all five alone.

"Now, to appease special interests, they are pursuing the harassment of senior citizens. They have been model citizens in Canada for over 50 years."

It is expected Volpe will seek cabinet approval within weeks, to revoke all five men on grounds they lied about their past to gain entry into Canada.

Since the Second World War, only one person is believed to have lost Canadian citizenship for wartime activities.

Botanist Jacob Luitjens was deported to the Netherlands in 1992 for collaborating with the Nazi occupying army.