CANADA

Running out of time for justice

Unable to win convictions, Ottawa tries to deport war criminals

E. KAYE FULTON February 13 1995
CANADA

Running out of time for justice

Unable to win convictions, Ottawa tries to deport war criminals

E. KAYE FULTON February 13 1995

Running out of time for justice

CANADA

Unable to win convictions, Ottawa tries to deport war criminals

It was not only the first prosecution under a flawed Canadian war crimes law, it was the landmark case that finally broke a government's will. In 1990, after a six-month trial, a Toronto jury acquitted Imre Finta, then a 77-year-old local restaurateur, of war crimes he was alleged to have committed in his native Hungary in 1944. The Crown accused the former policeman of herding 8,615 Jews into railway cattle cars bound for concentration camps and certain death. In his defence, Finta’s lawyer maintained that his client was merely following orders.

Since then, three other war crimes cases that Ottawa brought to trial collapsed. But the finale to the federal prosecution program was a Supreme Court of Canada decision last spring that upheld Finta’s acquittal, four years after the original trial. Last week, Justice Minister Allan Rock announced a controversial shift in strategy. Conceding that the Finta judgement has hindered future prosecution, Rock said that Ottawa plans to try to deport, rather than seek to convict, at least 12 suspected Second World War criminals now living in Canada.

Rock’s announcement marked the latest chapter in the legal chill enveloping Ottawa over war crimes that date back half a century. While eight of the cases are ready for action, Ottawa will proceed with only four deportations this year— partly because of a lack of money and staff to handle the entire caseload. Justice officials say it is unlikely that any of those cases, or any others, will end up in criminal court. Said Peter Kremer, general counsel for the federal Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes investigation unit: “We gave it our best shot to put together prosecution cases that just weren’t

there. Now, we’re looking at other options.” With time running out, the idea of a staggered agenda and further delays was hardly welcomed by Jewish groups, particularly in a week following the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the infamous Nazi death camp at Auschwitz. “As far as war criminals are concerned, one day more in this country is one day too many,” said Irving Abella, national

president of the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC). “We were disturbed particularly when the rationale was given as a lack of resources and manpower and the like.”

Alerted one day in advance of Rock’s announcement during a private meeting in Toronto with Justice and Immigration officials, Jewish community leaders rejected Ottawa’s contention that the four deportation cases to be launched this year will set the legal precedents it needs to continue with the estimated 20 cases remaining from the Second World War. “We know very well that unless we move quickly on these people, they may not be here in another year or two or three,” said Abella. “If you have completed investigations of drug traffickers, for example, on your desk, you prosecute all of them, not just three or four.” Added David Matas, chairman of B’nai Brith Canada’s war crimes committee: “It is simply inexcusable to say we are not going to bring mass murderers to court because of money considerations.”

^ Canada’s Jewish community has long I chafed at Ottawa’s woeful record of | bringing war criminals to justice. After £ decades of government inaction, a two^ year inquiry by a royal commission chaired by Justice Jules Deschênes into suspected war criminals living in Canada concluded in 1986 that of the 660 cases that it studied, 20 of them warranted immediate action and 218 deserved more study. Since then, only two people have been stripped of their Canadian citizenship and deported. Justice officials admit that the Finta ruling by the Supreme Court, which allows people to legitimately argue that they were simply following orders issued by wartime

A FAILED RECORD OF PROSECUTION

Some of the suspected war criminals who have been deported from or tried in Canada since the early 1980s:

Albert Rauca: Deported to West Germany in May, 1983, to stand trial for the murder of 11,500 Lithuanian Jews. Died in prison a few months later at 75.

Imre Finta: Toronto restaurant owner who was charged in 1987 at the age of 76 with

confining and kidnapping more than 8,000 Hungarian Jews who died. First person charged under Canada’s war crimes law. Acquitted in 1990.

Michael Pawlowski: Retired carpenter from Renfrew, Ont., charged in 1989 at age 77 with helping to murder 400 Jews in the former Soviet Union. Charges stayed in 1992 after a judge mied that taped testimony from the Soviet Union could not be used in court.

Stephen Reistetter: Retired autoworker from St. Catharines, Ont., who was charged in 1990 at age 75 with kidnapping 3,000 Jews in Czechoslovakia in 1942. Charges

were withdrawn the following year after two key witnesses died.

Jac Luitjens: Former professor at the University of British Columbia who was deported to Holland in 1992 and jailed for helping Nazi forces capture Dutch resistance fighters. Due for release in March because of his age—75.

Radislav Grujicic: Retired bookseller from Windsor, Ont., who was charged in 1992 at age 81 with conspiring to kidnap and murder Communists in German-occupied Yugoslavia. Charges stayed in 1994 because of ill health.

authorities, has all but closed criminal channels until the law is tightened. “These cases by their very nature were always difficult,” declared Montreal lawyer Jack Silverstone, the CJC’s national executive director. “It takes a certain dogged determination to deal with them, a fire in the belly that you don’t often run into in Ottawa.”

Some experts now say that Ottawa’s campaign to pursue criminal charges against suspected war criminals has proven to be a waste of time and money. Introduced to mixed reactions in 1987 by then-justice Minister Ramon Hnatyshyn, the amendment to the Criminal Code was designed to ensure that war crimes and crimes against humanity, “wherever possible, be dealt with here in Canada.” Ruling out that approach, the United States set up a system that sought only denaturalization and deportation. Since 1979, 42 war criminals have been deported from the United States; eight cases are under appeal and a further 300 people are under investigation. American investigators say that records from recently opened Soviet archives are expected to speed up the process even more. Said John Russell, spokesman for the U.S. Office of Special Investigation: “Although the hourglass is running out, we do have a surge of new information.”

In contrast, the cautious approach taken by Ottawa is seen by some as evidence of a diminished political will to continue a frustrating— and often fruitless—campaign. “It has taken us 50 years and we are still getting piecemeal justice in Canada,” said Frank Diamant, executive vice-president of B’nai Brith. “The biological clock is ticking rapidly. We just don’t have the time to waste.” Despite assurances last week by Rock that Canada “is not, and will not become, a safe haven” for war criminals, Maclean’s has learned that the special war crimes unit created in 1985 to gather evidence against Second World War and contemporary war criminals faces significant cutbacks. Once a 40-member force of lawyers, historians and RCMP investigators with an annual budget of more than $2.4 million, the unit will be reduced to 19 people, eight of them full-time RCMP investigators, by April 1, and its budget cut to $755,000.

The fact that Nazi war criminals may still be at large in Canada is especially disturbing to those who have lived to bear witness to wartime atrocities. “It makes your blood curdle with anger and frustration,” said Nathan Leipciger, 65, a death camp survivor and chairman of the Holocaust Remembrance Committee of the CJC. Leipciger and his father, Jack, spent three months at Auschwitz, the first of several Nazi camps to which they were sent. His mother, Leah, and sister, Blima, both died at Auschwitz. Says Leipciger of the war criminals who remain in Canada: ‘You don’t know where they are: they may be your neighbors, you may be doing business with them. I’m sure they don’t have nightmares. We are the ones that have nightmares about what happened.”

E. KAYE FULTON in Ottawa

SCOTT STEELE