Globe and Mail | 25May2007 | Kirk Makin, Jane Taber

Ottawa strips two Nazi suspects of citizenship

Third man accused of lying about his wartime past can live out his final days in Canada

The Harper government yesterday stripped two Canadian men suspected of Nazi war crimes of their citizenship, but told a third man accused of lying about his wartime past that he will be allowed to retain his.

Wasyl Odynsky, 83, originally from Ukraine who now lives in Toronto, was notified in a brief letter that he can live out his days in Canada, his daughter, Olya, told The Globe and Mail.

Ms. Odynsky praised the government yesterday for recognizing that her father did nothing wrong.

"I would say this is a courageous move on the part of the government," she said.

Helmut Oberlander, 84, and Jacob Fast, who is almost 100, both of whom were also originally from Ukraine, were found by the Federal Court of Canada to have obtained their Canadian citizenship through "false representation or fraud" by concealing their involvement in war activities.

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson quietly issued a release yesterday announcing the revocation of their citizenship, something the Canadian Jewish Congress has been seeking for more than a decade. Canada will not be a safe haven for anyone involved in war crimes, genocide or crimes against humanity, Mr. Nicholson said.

The next step will be to have the two men deported, Bernie Farber, head of the Canadian Jewish Congress, said yesterday.

"I think it is a hugely important message not just for the Jewish community and certainly survivors [of the Holocaust] ... with everything going on now in Darfur where war crimes are being perpetrated, Canada is no longer a safe haven," said Mr. Farber, echoing Mr. Nicholson's statement.

Mr. Farber met three weeks ago with Mr. Nicholson to lobby him, saying he was careful not to push on specific individuals but on the principle that "Nazi enablers" should not be Canadian citizens.

Mr. Farber had lobbied the previous Liberal government on this same issue and said that it moved at "glacial speed." He said yesterday's decision speaks to the "ethics" of the Harper government.

The letter Mr. Odynsky received from Citizenship and Immigration Canada said simply: "The purpose of this letter is to notify you that on May 17, 2007, the Governor in Council decided not to revoke your citizenship. As a result, you remain a Canadian citizen under the Citizenship Act."

"Those two little lines have changed our lives," Ms. Odysnky said in an interview from Spain, where she is attending a conference. "It is hard to believe that a piece of paper can change your lives back to normal. My father can't believe it. It has been really, really tough for us for almost 10 years."

Ms. Odynsky said that the worst elements of her family's ordeal involved inaccurate media reporting about the case and occasional letters they received from immigration officials warning that Mr. Odynsky's deportation remained under active consideration.

In a 2001 ruling, Federal Court Judge W. Andrew MacKay said he had no doubt that Mr. Odynsky served involuntarily throughout the war and had never been a Nazi. Still, he said that he could only conclude that it is more likely than not that Mr. Odynsky had lied to immigration officers about his wartime status.

Born in 1924 in Western Ukraine, Mr. Odynsky's village was occupied by the Germans in 1941. Like many young people, he was carted away to provide forced labour. However, he and four friends escaped. Judge MacKay noted that they turned themselves in only after learning that their families were threatened with execution.

Mr. Odynsky became a perimeter guard at a forced-labour camp in Trawniki, defending the camp against attacks by partisans. On Nov. 3 or 4, 1943, a massacre by German SS police took place that wiped out most of the Jewish captives in the area. Judge MacKay found that Mr. Odynsky was confined to his barracks at the time.

Lubomyr Luciuk, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said that family's ordeal personified the unfairness of the denaturalization and deportation procedure.

"An enormous amount of emotion and finances have been expended on this," Mr. Luciuk said. "This is a positive outcome of a flawed process. Will the government apologize to Mr. Odynsky for dragging him through these unfounded allegations for more than a decade? I suspect not."

Mr. Oberlander, who lives in Kitchener, Ont., was found in 2000 by the Federal Court of Canada to have lied about serving as a translator for an elite Nazi death squad when he emigrated to Canada with his wife in 1954. In 2001 his citizenship was revoked but was later restored by the Federal Court.

Mr. Fast, meanwhile, who lives in St. Catharines, Ont., was found by the Federal Court in 2003 to have lied in 1947 when obtaining his citizenship after not revealing his German citizenship. The court found, according to the government release, that Mr. Fast had collaborated with the "German security police responsible for enforcing the racial policies of the German Reich."

Since 1977, Canada has revoked 54 citizenships, seven of which have been related to the Second World War, according to the government release. Mr. Farber says that compares with the United States, which since 1979 has revoked the citizenship of 115 Nazi war criminals.