Record (Kitchener-Waterloo) | 08Jun2005 | Frank Etherington

Last word on who stays

Let courts alone decide citizenship, MP Telegdi says

WATERLOO REGION: Revocation of citizenship should be a judicial decision, not a political one, to prevent the "incredible abuses of process" that occurred with Waterloo developer Helmut Oberlander, a parliamentary committee said yesterday.

This is the key recommendation of the committee on citizenship and immigration chaired by Andrew Telegdi, the Kitchener-Waterloo MP.

After listening to 130 witnesses and holding hearings across Canada, committee members from all four parties tabled their findings in the House of Commons.

Telegdi said he's pleased committee members found the existing law unacceptable and that it recommended revocation be a matter for criminal courts, subject to their higher level of proof.

The committee said there should be no provision in the law for any administrative-bureaucratic power to annul a person's citizenship.

Contacted yesterday, Oberlander, 82, refused to discuss the findings.

"After 11 years of all this . . . I have no more comment to make on the whole matter," he said.

Telegdi said Oberlander's case "is a perfect example of an incredible abuse of process . . . and there are about 20 others like it across Canada."

Oberlander's daughter, Irene Rooney, welcomed the committee's recommendation to make revocation a matter solely for the courts.

"If that had been the case years ago . . . they would have thrown out the case against my father because they would have had absolutely nothing to go ahead with," she said.

"We've always argued the government's approach to citizenship revocation was flawed . . . and that it should be removed from the political process."

Telegdi, too, was critical of the way Oberlander's case has been "dragged out so long." The family is still wondering if anything will happen, he said.

Oberlander, who became a Canadian citizen in 1960, celebrated in May 2004 when the Federal Court of Appeal restored his citizenship after it was taken away by cabinet.

But Ottawa officials said in March they were preparing a second attempt to revoke his citizenship and pave the way for deportation.

Cabinet had revoked Oberlander's citizenship in 2001 based on a finding by a Federal Court of Canada judge that he lied about his service with a notorious Nazi killing unit when he emigrated from Germany in 1954. Oberlander was 17 when he served as an interpreter with a mobile unit that killed at least 23,000 civilians, mostly Jews, in Ukraine from 1941 to 1943. There is no evidence he directly participated in war crimes.

Committee members said the loss of citizenship is of such significance to the person concerned that the case should be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in a criminal court.

Under the existing Citizenship Act -- enacted in 1977, five years before Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms was drafted -- citizenship can be revoked if a federal court judge finds it was obtained by false representation or fraud. The judge's finding can never be appealed.

And after the judge finds the person likely obtained citizenship improperly, the federal cabinet is responsible for deciding whether to revoke citizenship.

Telegdi said any citizenship revocation should respect the Charter of Rights and Freedoms -- "the same charter rights a person fighting a shoplifting charge would enjoy."

A person whose citizenship is threatened because of the finding of a judge should be allowed to appeal the judge's decision, he said.

At a Waterloo hearing of Telegdi's committee in April, Rooney said her father's struggle to keep his citizenship undermined the financial and emotional health of the Oberlander family.

She said yesterday that her father is still a citizen, the government has not renewed its efforts at deportation, and her family has heard nothing about it in the past three months.

The committee's conclusions on the revocation issue were challenged in a minority report by member Hedy Fry, MP for Vancouver Centre and parliamentary secretary to Joe Volpe, the minister of citizenship and immigration.

"It's crazy to see a parliamentary secretary putting in this type of minority report," Telegdi said. "It's rubbish . . . coming from departmental people trying to justify the process and protect the status quo."

Fry objected to the recommendation that government be required to prove facts beyond a reasonable doubt before revoking someone's citizenship. Fry argued revocation is appropriate where someone fraudulently gains citizenship.

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