Critics say apology not nearly enough

Thursday May 10, 2001
Cherri Greeno

An apology may be a start, but it's not enough to fix the damage already done by Liberal MP Andrew Telegdi, say some members of the Jewish community.

Yesterday, the member for Kitchener-Waterloo apologized in the House of Commons to those he "caused hurt or discomfort" to when he said Canada's rules on citizenship and deportation smack of a totalitarian Nazi or Stalinist regime.

"A member of Parliament should never erroneously single out one particular ethnic group for condemnation," said Simon Adler, president of Kitchener's Beth Jacob Synagogue. "The apology completely misses the important point. I want him out of the Liberal Party."

Telegdi made the controversial comments in a Record interview last week when he criticized the rules by which politicians, and not the courts, make the final decision on citizenship.

"That's what Hitler used to do," he said.

Telegdi said it would be fundamentally unjust for Ottawa to strip the citizenship of his constituent, Helmet Oberlander of Waterloo, in light of the fact that he has no right to appeal a court decision against him.

Last year, a Federal Court judge found Oberlander failed to disclose to immigration officials his role as an interpreter with an infamous Nazi death squad in the Second World War.

Yesterday, Telegdi told Prime Minister Jean Chretien and Parliament he was sorry and his comments to The Record were "misunderstood, misinterpreted and misstated."

But that apology came a little too late for some people.

"Not only were his comments inflammatory and derogatory, but they were wrong in fact," said Adler. "I don't want my governing party allowing people to make these statements."

Adler plans to write a letter to Chretien asking Telegdi be dismissed from the party.

Members of B'nai Brith Canada welcomed Telegdi's apology but said it's simply a stepping stone to his political recovery.

"We're delighted he reconsidered his original statements but I urge caution that we monitor his comments in the future," said Rochell Wilner, president of the organization.

Wilner wants Telegdi to apologize specifically for statements he made claiming her organization supports his views.

"A general apology doesn't cut it," said Wilner. "We want a full apology for him saying we support him . . . because we absolutely do not.

"Our position is firm. Oberlander has no place in our country."

Frank Dimant, executive vice-president of B'nai Brith Canada, said Telegdi's apology is a "positive first step," but he wants Telegdi to state publicly that Oberlander should be deported.

"I think that should follow next," he said. "I think it's important to demonstrate collectively that Canada will not be a haven for war criminals."

While some continued to lash out at Telegdi after his brief apology, members of the Canadian Jewish Congress said it was time to put the incident behind them.

"As far as we're concerned the matter is closed," said Bernie Farber, Canadian Jewish Congress executive director. "We're satisfied with it. This should be a lesson well-learned that onehas to be careful when choosing words."

Farber said although upset by Telegdi's initial comments, he's happy "he took a sober second look and realized (what he said) was hurtful, unnecessary and inappropriate."

Bob Byron, president of the Liberal Kitchener-Waterloo riding association, believes Telegdi's apology should be accepted because "he is a very sincere individual who is sincere in his views.

"There was no way he was trying to imply (Canada) is a totalitarian regime," said Byron. "He is so passionate about being a Canadian. No one can ever question that.

"He believes to be a Canadian is an honour -- nothing less."

Kitchener-Waterloo Record 2000
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