Toronto Sun | 23Jun2005 | Peter Worthington


LAST THURSDAY, the House of Commons unanimously adopted an all-party Senate Committee report that will effectively make all Canadian citizens equal, and not first- and second-class.

At issue is citizenship revocation -- cabinet's right to strip certain naturalized Canadians of their citizenship and deport them if they might have misled or withheld pertinent information on entering Canada as immigrants.

By voting to accept the report, the Commons has essentially adopted it as their own, despite a number of absentee votes. This fall, legislation will likely be debated.

To any naturalized Canadian, this is an exceedingly important issue. It means they would have the same rights as native-born Canadians. It also means a handful of aging Ukrainian Canadians who came here after World War II, will not lose their citizenship and be deported, as the past Chretien and present Martin governments want.

Citizenship and Immigration Minister Joe Volpe has denied earlier news reports that deportation orders would proceed against the likes of Toronto's Wasyl Odynsky, Kitchener's Helmut Oberlander, Windsor's Michael Baumgartner and St. Catharines' Jacob Fast (who has Alzheimer's) -- all in their 80s except Fast, who is 94.

Hungarian-born Andrew Telegdi, Liberal MP for Kitchener-Waterloo, chairs the committee that heard 130 witnesses and depositions across Canada.

The present citizenship revocation law has been damned by the courts, but is supported by the Canadian Jewish Congress, which says changing the law will make it easier for war criminals to enter Canada. A key issue that will be disputed in proposed legislation, is replacing the "probability" clause with "beyond reasonable doubt" in assessing testimony. Currently, if a federal judge rules that a person "probably" withheld information about his wartime past, that person can be stripped of citizenship and ordered deported by cabinet, with no right of appeal or protection of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The new recommendation is that false representation or fraud must be proved "beyond a reasonable doubt" in a criminal court, with all the legal protections available under the Charter, and no limits on the right to appeal.

The fear that war criminals may benefit under a new act seems unreasonable. Those aging Ukrainians who were forced to work for the Nazis when they were teenagers in WWII are not war criminals. In fact, there's no suggestions they committed crimes against humanity or participated in war crimes -- just that they may not have revealed their wartime record.

When he was a lawyer for the Deschenes inquiry into war crimes, Justice Minister Irwin Cotler said there were hundreds of war criminals living in Canada, although none have been convicted.

The Telegdi committee -- and now the Commons -- feels citizenship revocation and deportation should only be done through a criminal court, and not be a political decision by cabinet.

When the Citizenship Act of 1947 was revised in 1977, several aspects were neglected, including not ensuring that children born in Canada to Canadians would not automatically lose their citizenship if their father changed nationality. That flaw is slowly being corrected, and in its way is as bad as making naturalized Canadians second-class by enabling cabinet to revoke citizenship and deport someone without due process, without appeal, and in secret without a lawyer.

Changes or amendments in legislation will likely result from parliamentary debate, but at least a majority in all parties agree changes are necessary.

Taking an overview, Canada owes an enormous debt to Andrew Telegdi for his persistence and principles. He resigned as parliamentary secretary to the immigration minister (Eleanor Caplan) over the revocation process.

One wonders if Trinidad-born Hedi Fry, demoted from the cabinet to parliamentary secretary to Joe Volpe, (and who has written a dissenting opinion to the Telegdi report) will likewise resign?

Don't bet on it.