COVER

CANADA'S NAZI PRESENCE

MADELAINE DROHAN May 25 1987
COVER

CANADA'S NAZI PRESENCE

MADELAINE DROHAN May 25 1987

CANADA'S NAZI PRESENCE

The small white house in a working-class area of east Vancouver is unremarkable—apart from the fact that it shelters a convicted war criminal who has never been punished for helping the Nazis during their occupation of Holland. In 1948 a Dutch court sentenced Jacob Luitjens to life imprisonment for his crimes. But Luitjens, who managed to flee from his homeland to Paraguay after the war ended, entered Canada in 1961 and became a citizen 10 years later. Ottawa refused a 1981 extradition request from the Dutch government because Canada’s extradition treaty with the Netherlands did not specifically cover collaboration with the enemy.

Luitjens, a 66-year-old retired botany teacher, denies that he committed such crimes as helping to arrange the

executions of a German army deserter and a Dutch underground member. But his tranquil postwar life has fuelled the anger of Jewish community leaders who say that Canada has done a poor job of tracking down and prosecuting war criminals. Declared Irwin Cotier, a law professor at Montreal’s McGill University: “For 40 years the issue has not been a lack of legal remedy but a lack of political will.” Indeed, he and other critics say that Ottawa’s failure to prosecute Nazis encourages anti-Semites to disseminate hate literature against Jews and question the reality of the Holocaust.

Hit list: Still, a royal commission report by Quebec Superior Court Justice Jules Deschênes in March has given Cotier and other critics new hope for government action. That is because Deschênes’ 837-page report is the first comprehensive attempt to verify the presence of war criminals in Canada. It also dispelled the myth that thousands of former Nazis had found refuge here and recommended that the government move quickly against at least 20 alleged war criminals and conduct investigations of another 218 suspects.

To that end, federal Justice Minister Ramon Hnatyshyn has begun to draft amendments to the Canadian Criminal Code that would permit prosecutors to lay charges for crimes that allegedly occurred in wartime Europe. Hnatyshyn said that he expects to have the legislation passed before Parliament adjourns for its summer recess in June or July. But he faces an overloaded government agenda and competition from other cabinet ministers who also want to get their bills passed. As a result, Liberal justice critic Robert Kaplan expressed concern that war criminals might slip out of the country before the proposed changes take effect and they can be brought to trial. Said Kaplan: “I would be very

surprised if some of the people on the hit list have not already taken steps to protect themselves.”

Burden: Hnatyshyn has already authorized the formation of a special investigative team. The unit—which is still being assembled—will try to find war criminals and compile evidence against them. That step was praised by Allan A. Ryan Jr., a Harvard University lawyer and former director of the Office of Special Investigations, a U.S. federal unit with similar responsibilities for war criminals. But, declared Ryan: “Until some concrete steps are taken to actually bring Nazis to the dock, the burden is still upon Canada to show that it is serious.” For its part, the OSI has achieved some notable successes since its formation in 1979, with 27 cases now before the courts and 500 more under investigation. Its greatest coup to date: the extradition of John Demjanjuk (Ivan the Terrible), who is currently on trial in Israel.

Still, spokesmen for eastern European communities in the United States have objected to an OSI mandate that combines the tasks of investigation and prosecution in a single office. To forestall similar criticism in Canada, Hnatyshyn has adopted a recommendation from Deschênes that Ottawa’s

Nazi-hunting unit take action against suspected war criminals in a two-step process. First, RCMP officers attached to the unit would submit their investigation reports to justice department lawyers who would then decide if charges should be laid.

Wounds: In addition, the Quebec judge tried to remove continuing sources of friction between ethnic communities and Canada’s Jewish population. To that end Deschênes vindicated as many as 600 Ukrainian-born Canadians who had served in the Galicia Division, a military unit recruited by the Germans in 1943. There had never been any substantiated proof, he said, that division members who had immi-

grated to Canada had ever committed atrocities.

But representatives of eastern European groups in Canada say that the sweeping accusations made during the commission’s 22 months of hearings have already maligned entire ethnic communities. Peter Aruvald, secretary general of the Torontobased Estonian Central Council of Canada, said that war crime accusations often painted Estonians and other Baltic nationals “with the same brush.” He added,

“Whole ethnic groups are accused of being Nazi collaborators on extremely spurious evidence.”

And despite Deschênes’ efforts to heal old wounds, an Ottawa historian said that an unreleased report that she prepared for the commission could renew

friction between Jews and eastern Europeans in Canada. That is because Deschênes’ final report deleted the names of all suspected war criminals and their countries of origin—information that consultant Alti Rodal included in her 550-page study. Said Rodal: “It’s one thing if an outsider, some historian at a university, writes it up. It’s another if the government itself is publishing it.” Hnatyshyn has said that the government still plans to publish Rodal’s report.

But Montreal’s Cotier says that there are greater issues involved than simply arraigning aging men in court. Said Cotier: “Not putting war criminals on trial can allow the inference to be drawn that maybe this wasn’t all

that serious.” Indeed, a former Conservative member of the Alberta legislature resigned from the provincial Land Compensation Board last week after restating his skepticism about the Holocaust. Stephen Stiles had become embroiled in controversy four years ago when he said that he doubted that the Nazis had rounded up and massacred Jews. Last week he said that he had seen no evidence to convince him that the Nazis had singled out the Jews for persecution.

According to Cotier, Ottawa’s past inaction has emboldened such convicted anti-Semites as Toronto-based graphic artist Ernst Zundel. In 1985 an Ontario district court jury concluded

that Zundel had knowingly spread false news likely to cause social harm. He did so by claiming that the Holocaust was a hoax in a pamphlet titled Did Six Million Really Die?

But last January the Ontario Court of Appeal ordered a retrial because the trial judge had made several errors by refusing to admit several books, slides and models that Zundel wanted to use as evidence. Ontario Attorney General Ian Scott has asked the Supreme Court of Canada to reinstate the conviction, but Zundel has said that he would welcome a new trial to restate his views.

Risk: Zundel’s trial— and the 1985 trial and conviction of former history teacher James Keegstra of Eckville, Alta., of wilfully spreading hatred about Jews— produced the spectacle of lawyers arguing over the

number of Jews who died in Nazi concentration camps. And a tough federal campaign against war criminals still living in Canada may produce similar experiences. But David Matas, a Winnipeg lawyer and senior counsel for the Jewish service organization B’nai B’rith, says that he wants to take that risk. Said Matas: “Time is running out. Witnesses and accused are growing old.” Clearly, for Cotier and Matas and many other Canadians, delaying bringing war criminals to trial will perpetuate another crime—denying justice to the victims of the Holocaust.

MADELAINE DROHAN