Edmonton Journal | Mar. 20, 2004 | David Matas

To deport? Or not?

An Edmonton man who has lived in Canada for 55 years is suspected of being a Nazi war criminal. If it's proven he lied to get into Canada, should he be stripped of his citizenship and sent out of the country? The Journal asked two people with opposing viewpoints -- a Winnipeg lawyer and an Edmonton publisher -- to answer that question:
Yes ... or ... No

Edmonton Journal, A15, Saturday, March 20, 2004


"Neither old age nor amiability is a defence for crimes against humanity."

David Matas
Special to The Journal

Sixty-one years after the crimes he is alleged to have committed -- and 55 years after he is alleged to have lied his way into Canada -- Josef Furman is finally facing justice.

In November 2003, the Canadian government told Furman it had reason to believe that when he entered Canada in 1949, he hid a sordid past -- that he was a member of a Nazi SS company that helped quell the Warsaw ghetto uprising, clear Jewish ghettos and camps, and deport Jews to death and slave labour camps. Then, it is alleged that he was a guard at a Nazi concentration camp.

Furman is contesting the allegations against him. So the matter must be decided by Federal Court.

There are those who will ask, in response to this case, hasn't enough time passed? Why is it important that we continue to pursue and punish such individuals?

It might well be that this case and others like it have taken disgracefully long to get to court, but it would be even more disgraceful if nothing was ever done, given the seriousness of the allegations and the weight of the evidence the government must have had before it decided to act.

The crimes for which Furman is accused, combined with similar offences by a host of others, led to and were part of the Holocaust, the largest and most heinous crime the world has ever known. The very magnitude of that seminal event in world history made it not only a crime against the Jewish people. In a very real sense, humanity itself was a victim.

The delay in acting in cases such as Furman's does not excuse further delays, let alone justify dropping the effort to bring Nazi war criminals to justice altogether. On the contrary, these cases must be pursued urgently if justice is to be done. Canada can no longer afford the luxury of moving at a leisurely pace. Already, six men accused of being Nazi war criminals have died of natural causes during prolonged legal proceedings attempting to remove them from Canada. Indeed, the accepted legal strategy for those accused of such crimes is now to drag out proceedings until their clients die natural deaths in Canada.

The issue before the court is whether Furman lied on entry in 1949, not whether he committed war crimes in 1943. That is as it should be.

Immediately after the Second World War, when the evidence was still fresh, prosecution and conviction for war crimes would have been the preferable remedy. The lies Furman is alleged to have told to gain admittance to Canada, if made, were meant to ensure that the trail of evidence against him would grow cold. He should not now be able to insist that the government prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he committed the offences, which his own alleged lies will have made difficult or impossible to prove, before revoking his citizenship for having lied in the first place.

Neither Furman's good behaviour in Canada, nor his age, nor his ties to the community, can excuse the obstruction of justice against him. There is no statute of limitations for the crimes Furman is accused of covering up. Neither old age nor amiability is a defence for crimes against humanity or lying about participation in those crimes.

Had we only uncovered evidence that Clifford Olsen was guilty of the crimes that he committed in, say, 10 or even 20 years from now, would we then say to the families of his victims, "We're sorry, too much time has passed and besides, Mr. Olsen has been a model citizen for the past 10 years"?

No one should be surprised or deceived by the reported gentle demeanour and civility of those who are accused of participating in these horrific activities. The worst crimes known to humanity have been committed by the most ordinary of people. The horror of these crimes is not only what happened to the victims, but also the mass willing participation of people from every walk of life. When it came to their dealings with people other than Jews, they were everyday, average human beings. Furman's seeming ordinariness today should not mislead people into thinking that he must be innocent of the lies and crimes with which he is charged.

Those who remember the victims of the crimes that Furman is alleged to have concealed have waited 61 years for justice. They should not have to wait a day longer.

David Matas is senior honorary counsel to the League for Human Rights of B'nai Brith Canada and a highly respected international human rights advocate. He is a Winnipeg lawyer.

� The Edmonton Journal 2004