Saturday May 5, 2001 | Kitchener-Waterloo Record

Canada like Nazi regime, Telegdi says

by Philip Jalsevac

Canada is acting like a Nazi-style regime if it deports Helmut Oberlander of Waterloo without a right to appeal a court decision against him, says Kitchener-Waterloo MP Andrew Telegdi. He derided the law by which "politicians make decisions on citizenship. That's what Hitler used to do."

The local MP opened a stinging war of words yesterday in criticizing the Canadian Jewish Congress over its opposition to amending the law to allow people like Oberlander a legal appeal.

Earlier this week, a spokesman for Immigration Minister Elinor Caplan said she will recommend Oberlander, 77, be stripped of his citizenship as a first step to deportation.

Justice Andrew MacKay of the Federal Court of Canada ruled last year there was no evidence Oberlander committed war crimes. But the judge found he had misled immigration officials by failing to disclose his service as an interpreter with a Nazi death squad during the Second World War.

There is no appeal of that decision, which is what rankles Telegdi, who wants the law changed so that judges and not politicians have the final say on citizenship and deportation.

"It's unseemly the way the Canadian Jewish Congress is fighting this (in opposing a right of appeal)," Telegdi said. "They don't believe in having due process."

He added that the current system smacks of a Stalinist or Nazi totalitarian regime and "it has no place in a country that prides itself on its Charter of Rights and Freedoms."

The remarks drew a sharp reaction from officials of the Canadian Jewish Congress.

"Is that what he said? He should be ashamed of himself," said Bernie Farber, executive director of the congress. "Any comparison between an evil monstrosity such as Hitler and a democracy like Canada is a shameful statement."

Keith Landy, incoming president of the congress, was shocked and said: "That's an outrageous statement coming from someone who is an elected official in this country.

"It doesn't help the situation to make incendiary comments. And I would caution Mr. Telegdi that attempting to escalate this discussion into an ethnic battle doesn't do anyone any service," Landy added.

In a separate interview, a defiant Telegdi shot back: "The only one that is creating an ethnic battle is the Canadian Jewish Congress . . . they're the only ones who support a process by which you can strip citizenship without a right of appeal."

He accused the congress of "standing in the way of justice" and "defending the indefensible."

Taking it a step further, the MP said: "Who are the main protagonists on this deportation stuff? It's the Canadian Jewish Congress who want to use this unfair system."

Telegdi has made the issue of the right of appeal a personal crusade since resigning as Caplan's parliamentary secretary last year. He noted yesterday that his stance is supported by such groups as the Canadian Bar Association, B'nai Brith, the Canadian Islamic Congress, the German Canadian Congress, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the K-W Multicultural Centre and the Canadian Polish Congress.

As for the Canadian Jewish Congress, which is demanding the immediate deportation of Oberlander, he said: "They're totally alone."

Farber, however, said "the granting of citizenship is a political act and not a legal act. As a result, the taking away of citizenship should also be a political act."

He added: "We have a law and the law has to be obeyed. Andrew may not like it and others may not like it, but that's the law. We shouldn't be talking anarchy here . . . one has to express disappointment that Mr. Telegdi doesn't feel Canadian law should be followed."

Landy said Telegdi "seemingly wants to pit one community against another" but the debate should not turn into a dispute between Jews and people of German descent.

He also slammed Telegdi's stance on Oberlander.

"Frankly, I find it distasteful that a member of Parliament would criticize the legal system in this manner."

Telegdi plans to lobby cabinet ministers against taking any action against Oberlander, who lives in his riding.

He derided the finding that he lied to come to Canada. Noting that MacKay needed to rely only on a "balance of probabilities" he said that "basically reduces it to speculation. They had no proof."

Coupled with the lack of an appeal, Telegdi said, "I don't think Oberlander or anybody should be sent out of the country under this legislation. This is just fundamentally unjust."

While there is no right of appeal, there is a right to a more limited judicial review, a step Oberlander has said he will take.