Record (Kitchener-Waterloo) | 09Jun2005 | Frank Etherington

B'nai Brith slams MP's report

Telegdi's citizenship changes would help war criminals stay in Canada, lawyer says

WATERLOO REGION: War criminals who lied their way into Canada will escape justice if Ottawa accepts findings of a citizenship committee chaired by Kitchener-Waterloo MP Andrew Telegdi, a Jewish human-rights expert charged yesterday.

David Matas, a lawyer speaking for B'nai Brith Canada, dismissed recommendations outlined in a report on citizenship revocation released Tuesday by the federal committee.

He criticized Telegdi for "playing games" and taking an approach to revocation that is "not honest about confronting the issue of bringing war criminals to justice."

B'nai Brith, the Jewish community's leading Canadian human rights organization, has been active since 1875.

Matas said by focusing only on the rights of those subjected to citizenship proceedings without regard to the rights of countless victims, the report's findings represent a fundamental imbalance that should be rejected.

Committee members recommended that revocation of citizenship should be a judicial rather than a political issue decided by the federal cabinet.

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

Matas said retired Waterloo developer Helmut Oberlander, 82, has become "a poster child for the ineffectiveness of the current law."

Decades after becoming a Canadian citizen, Oberlander was found to have lied about his service with a Nazi killing unit when he emigrated from Germany. His citizenship was revoked by cabinet but restored after an appeal.

Matas pointed out that Oberlander lives in Telegdi's riding.

"He (Telegdi) has a bee in his bonnet about the whole revocation issue and his opinions are . . . at complete odds with his own government," Matas said.

He said the Oberlander issue has dragged on for more than a decade and, as with similar cases, there has been no conclusive government action.

"The report's recommendations . . . would make revocation of citizenship of Oberlander and others even more difficult than now," Matas said.

"The existing procedure is a viable remedy . . . we need to keep it."

Oberlander, who refused comment on the committee's findings, became a Canadian citizen in 1960.

The federal cabinet revoked his citizenship in 2001 based on a finding by a Federal Court of Canada judge that he lied when he entered Canada in 1954.

Oberlander celebrated in May when the Federal Court of Appeal restored his citizenship.

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

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 Oberlander directly participated in war crimes.

Asked about Matas' comments, Telegdi said if there's no proof of war crimes by Oberlander, the issue should be dropped.


The MP said it's "silly" to suggest he wants the citizenship law changed because Oberlander is a constituent.

"I would say (to B'nai Brith) I recently had two guys flying a Nazi flag in my riding, and I said I would try to get a private member's bill to put a stop to that," he said.

"I don't know the guys with the flag and I don't know Oberlander."

Matas said B'nai Brith is troubled by a committee recommendation that revocation take place only when there is "proof beyond a reasonable doubt."

He said the present law provides for revocation of citizenship if, on a balance of probabilities, a civil court finds someone committed fraud or false representation or knowingly concealed material to gain entry to Canada.

The finding by a judge in these cases cannot be appealed under the present law. The actual decision to revoke citizenship based on such a finding is made by cabinet.

Matas, who testified before Telegdi's committee for B'nai Brith, urged the government to accept the dissenting recommendations of committee member Hedy Fry, the MP for Vancouver Centre and parliamentary secretary to Citizenship Minister Joe Volpe.

Matas said the Jewish community knows Fry represents the wishes of both Volpe and the government.

Fry urged the government to maintain the existing civil standard in citizenship challenges. She objected to the committee's call that government be required to prove facts beyond a reasonable doubt.

In media interviews, Volpe has also disagreed with the committee's findings and said he's convinced existing government procedures are comprehensive enough to guard against potential abuse.


Volpe also hinted the issue could be overblown because there have been only 50 revocation cases in the past 28 years.

Telegdi said the minister "is quite wrong (and) his comments are unfortunate."

"If he reads what we heard from people across Canada he will see that we do have a problem in many communities," the MP said.

Matas said the government has agreed to revoke the citizenship of known war criminals.

"As it is, the current system of revocation . . . has so many procedural hurdles and technical obstacles that it has become almost unworkable.

He said Telegdi's committee is asking government to ignore and reject the work of the Commission of Inquiry on War Criminals, headed by Justice Jules Deschenes. The commission recommended the revocation of citizenship for fraud "according to a civil standard as a remedy for bringing crimes against humanity to justice," Matas said.

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