Record (Kitchener-Waterloo) | 10Jun2005 | Frank Etherington

German group backs citizenship proposal

WATERLOO REGION: German and other ethnic groups support the findings of a federal citizenship committee and see no risk war criminals who fraudulently entered Canada will escape justice, the president of the German Canadian Congress (Ontario) said yesterday.

Ulrich Frisse was commenting on the report of a committee chaired by Kitchener-Waterloo MP Andrew Telegdi and the response from David Matas, a lawyer and Jewish human rights expert with B'nai Brith Canada.

Matas opposes recommendations that citizenship revocation should be made by a court, not government, and based on evidence that establishes proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

Frisse said that without this higher level of proof, a person suspected of war crimes and made subject of a citizenship challenge should be left alone.

"War criminals should be prosecuted in a criminal court and, once established beyond a reasonable doubt . . . they should be hit with the full force of the law . . . and deported," he said.

"But it has to be a criminal prosecution . . . and there must be full rights to appeal. You can't go through the back door and use citizenship revocation with a lower threshold of evidence."

Frisse, who testified at cross-Canada committee hearings, said the issue is much wider than war crimes. Citizenship revocation is a human-rights issue and the current law makes six million Canadians born outside the country second-class citizens, he said.

Frisse said committee recommendations -- particularly one that transfers control of citizenship revocation to the courts from federal politicians -- would ensure rights are protected.

"This is the only way to ensure due process and to protect the revocation process from political interference."

Frisse pointed to the case of retired Waterloo developer Helmut Oberlander, 81, whose citizenship was revoked by cabinet and restored by a court.

He said the Superior Court of Ontario outlined flaws in the process when it ruled the government interfered with the courts, and elected officials had usurped the role of prosecutor and judge in Oberlander's case.

Matas suggested Wednesday that Oberlander, a constituent of Telegdi's, had already become "a poster child for the ineffectiveness of the current law."

Asked about Matas' comments, Telegdi said if there's no proof of charges against Oberlander the issue should be dropped. And the MP said it was "silly" to suggest he wants the law changed because Oberlander is a constituent. He said he has been involved in the fight to defend citizenship for years and met Oberlander after the issue developed.

Cabinet revoked Oberlander's citizenship in 2001 based on a finding by a Federal Court judge that he lied about his service with a Nazi killing unit when he emigrated from Germany in 1954. There is no evidence he participated in war crimes.

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.

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