CANADA

A safe haven no longer

MADELAINE DROHAN March 23 1987
CANADA

A safe haven no longer

MADELAINE DROHAN March 23 1987

A safe haven no longer

CANADA

For Frank Dimant, a Jew whose parents survived the horrors of the Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps, March 12 was the beginning “of a new era” in Canada. On that day the federal government announced that, after almost 40 years of inaction, it would begin tracking down and prosecuting war criminals who had found refuge within Canadian borders. The announcement accompanied the release of an 837-page report by Mr. Justice Jules Deschênes, the Quebec judge appointed two years ago to find out how many such criminals had slipped into Canada since the Second World War and how they could be brought to justice. Based on the report, Justice Minister Ramon Hnatyshyn declared that the government would amend the Criminal Code to allow for trials of the 20 suspected Nazi war criminals who Deschênes said are living in Canada. Declared a jubilant Dimant, executive vice-president of B’nai B’rith: “Canada will no longer be a safe haven for Nazi war criminals.”

The report came at a time when the trial in Jerusalem of alleged war criminal John Demjanjuk has raised international sensitivities about atrocities committed in Nazi-controlled Europe. Demjanjuk, a former auto mechanic from Cleveland, Ohio, is accused of being the notorious Ivan the Terrible, who helped to supervise the murder of 850,000 Jews at the Treblinka concentration camp. Stripped of his American citizenship in 1981, Demjanjuk was subsequently extradited to Israel to stand trial (page 23). Other countries have also prosecuted war criminals recently. But Canada’s record until now has been poor. Since the Second World War Ottawa has taken action against only one suspected Nazi: Helmut

Rauca of Toronto, who was extradited to West Germany in 1983 and died while awaiting trial. Last week Jewish and Ukrainian leaders joined Liberal and NDP spokesmen in welcoming both the report—and Hnatyshyn’s pledge of swift action. Said Irwin Cotier, counsel to the Deschênes Commission for the Canadian Jewish Congress: “The Deschênes report is Canada’s Nuremburg tribunal.”

The commission was set up in February, 1985, amid disturbing reports about the number of war criminals in Canada. Nazi hunter Sol Littman, the Toronto-based representative of the Simon Wiesenthal Center of Los Angeles, claimed in a December, 1984, letter to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney that the notorious Dr. Josef Mengele—known as the Angel of Death to the inmates of Auschwitzhad applied to emigrate to Canada in

1962. The Wiesenthal people estimated the number of war criminals in Canada at 6,000. But after 22 months of study, Deschênes concluded that there was “not a shred of evidence” to support Littman’s contention about Mengele. And estimates of the number of war criminals, he said, had been “grossly exaggerated.”

After the commission considered 936 cases, Deschênes recommended that 698 of those should be closed: ei-

ther the suspects had died, moved elsewhere or there was insufficient evidence against them. Another 218 cases required further investigation, he said, and 20 required urgent action. Although Deschênes noted that Canada was no worse than some other Western countries and had never knowingly aided a war criminal, his chronicle of Canada’s pathetic record on war criminals made dismal reading. Since 1948, when the British government quietly urged Commonwealth members to drop further trials against alleged offenders, he said, “Canada has not devoted the slightest energy to the search and prosecution of war criminals.”

But even if Canada had been more vigorous, Canadian law would have made it difficult to bring suspects to justice. Deschênes recommended several solutions, including amending the Criminal Code so that prosecutions can take place in Canada. In addition, he urged streamlined procedures for deportation and denaturalization of war criminals; extradition of suspected war criminals to other countries; and establishment of a special team of lawyers, historians and police officers within the RCMP to pursue suspected war criminals full time. Deschênes also suggested that investigators should seek evidence in Eastern Bloc countries—a point strongly contested by Ukrainian groups, which argued that the Soviet Union might fabricate evidence for political ends, hurting innocent people. In the Demjanjuk case, Israeli prosecutors have used evidence supplied by the Soviets—an identity card issued by Nazi authorities— which his lawyers insist was forged by the KGB.

Hnatyshyn, while praising the report for clearing away the “mystery and speculation of war criminals in Canada,” rejected the recommended changes to extradition and deportation rules. Instead of “exporting our responsibility to other countries,” he said, Canadians should have the “political maturity” to face the issue at home. Although he gave no firm dates, Hnatyshyn promised that the government would move quickly to introduce amendments to the Criminal Code. His “made-in-Canada” approach would also include giving sufficient resources to the RCMP to conduct investigations wherever it chooses, including Eastern Europe.

The positive reaction to the report among Jewish and Ukrainian groups raised hopes for easing the tensions that have grown between the two communities since Deschênes began his work. But spokesmen for both groups said that the wounds would take time to heal. Dating back centu-

ries, the divisions are rooted in the Ukraine, where Jews and Ukrainians were separated by religion, economic class and political status. Stephen Jaworsky, a Ukrainian journalist who lives in Ottawa, said that wild accusations were made in the past two years about “blood-thirsty Ukrainians,” which tarred the whole community. “I do not deny there were individual col-

laborators and individual criminals,” he said. “But to try to put the blame on a whole community is very, very unjust.”

For his part, Littman dismissed the reports of tension as a “figment of the media’s imagination.” But he acknowledged that some “bitter-enders in both the Jewish and the Ukrainian communities are snarling at each other from a distance.” Now there is hope that the promise of government action will re-

solve the problem. Declared John Gregorowich, spokesman for the Ukrainian Canadian Committee: “Something will be done, instead of argument about what should be done.”

In Ukrainian communities, leaders were pleased that Deschênes had vindicated members of the Galicia Division, a Ukrainian military unit recruited by the Germans in 1943. Deschênes said bluntly that charges of war crimes against division members, some of whom emigrated to Canada, “have never been substantiated” and that “mere membership in the Galicia Division is insufficient to justify prosecution.” Said former Galicia member Wasyl Veryha: “It is a fair report.” Liberal MP Robert Kaplan, a Jew, said that the division was always thought of as “a symbol of evil” and that Deschênes has noted that it was made up of individuals, “some of whom are clearly not guilty of war crimes.” Kaplan said he hoped that the Deschênes report had cleared the air between the two communities. “We have an opportunity here as a nation to heal a rift that has existed for a long time,” he said.

But concerns remained about how quickly the Conservative government would proceed with the recommended investigations and legislation. Arthur Hiess, Quebec director of the League for Human Rights for B’nai B’rith, said that the league “will closely monitor the government to ensure that it acts promptly in amending the Criminal Code and in its commitment to deport alleged war criminals to countries with which it has an extradition treaty.” For his part, Kaplan said that the 20 individuals singled out for urgent action “know who they are” and added that he feared they might leave the country before the government acted. “If there is no legislation before June,” he said, “there will be a great opportunity for fugitives from justice to escape.”

And New Democratic Party justice critic Svend Robinson noted that the government had not hired any new RCMP investigators, although it has had the report since Dec. 30. Declared Robinson: “The biological clock is ticking. Those who are accused are getting older.” Indeed, unless they were very young when they committed their alleged crimes, the people identified by Deschênes in a confidential annex presented to the government along with his main report are now in their 60s, 70s and 80s. No matter how fast the government acts, death may claim them before the courts can.

MADELAINE DROHAN with KAREN NICHOLSON in Ottawa, ANN FINLAYSON in Toronto and MAUREEN ARGON in Montreal