Kitchener-Waterloo RECORD [[email protected]] | Tuesday May 8, 2001

Telegdi stands firm under fire

Statements on Oberlander case concern Prime Minister's Office
Philip Jalsevac, RECORD STAFF

Liberal MP Andrew Telegdi has now come under fire from Prime Minister Jean Chretien over remarks that Canada's rules on citizenship and deportation smack of a totalitarian Nazi or Stalinist regime.

"The statements as reported are extreme and offensive and I can tell you that the statements in no way reflect the opinion or have the support of this government or the prime minister," Duncan Fulton, a spokesman for Chretien, said yesterday.

Outraged officials of the Canadian Jewish Congress have urged Chretien to expel Telegdi from the Liberal caucus and party over his comments.

Asked if Telegdi faces that possibility, Fulton would only say: "We obviously want to confirm the accuracy of the statements ... we're discussing the comments with Mr. Telegdi."

Telegdi, the member for Kitchener-Waterloo, remains defiant in the face of the criticism.

In a news release yesterday, he alluded to the potential for his ouster from caucus but also defended his stance.

"I will not be diverted or intimidated from fighting an unfair process of citizenship revocation that exists in Canada today."

He said his job as a parliamentarian is "not to defend the status quo, but to fight for a just society.

"For me, my citizenship comes before my party."

The MP, who said "my stepfather fled Romania because he was Jewish," also took another poke at the Jewish congress and said: "It is highly offensive to be lectured about citizenship . . . by the CJC."

The ongoing controversy stems from an interview last week in which Telegdi 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, Helmut Oberlander of Waterloo, in light of the fact that he has no right to appeal a court decision against him.

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 failed to disclose to immigration officials his record in the Second World War as an interpreter with a Nazi death squad that killed 90,000 civilians.

Based on that finding, Immigration Minister Elinor Caplan last week gave Oberlander 30 days to respond to her recommendation to cabinet -- which will rule on Oberlander's fate -- that his citizenship be revoked as a first step to deportation.

If cabinet follows Caplan's recommendation, there are still several more steps, including an appeal to the Supreme Court, open to Oberlander.

In his news release, Telegdi said he deplores the "sensational headline" in Saturday's Record that said: "Canada like Nazi regime, Telegdi says."

"Of course, I do not wish to offend the Jewish people, with many of whom I have discussed my position. Many have understood and supported my demand that due process be recognized."

Referring to the headline, the MP said: "Those are not my words, nor do they reflect my beliefs."

However, he did not claim he was quoted inaccurately in the article.

"What I have said is that a liberal democratic state such as Canada should never remove citizenship lightly. That is what Hitler did to Jews, Gypsies and many others. That is what Stalin did to millions. All totalitarian regimes have engaged in these practices."

The MP also cited former Superior Court Justice Roger Salhany of Kitchener, who was retained by Oberlander to write an opinion on MacKay's ruling. Salhany said MacKay committed errors in law by allowing inadmissible evidence, making erroneous findings of fact, drawing unreasonable inferences and failing to apply the correct onus of proof.

"The evidence relied upon by the judge would never be relied upon in a Canadian court of law to establish that something happened," Salhany wrote. "It would be considered as no evidence at all."

Referring to the judges' dissent, Telegdi said: "Unlike the CJC, which wants Oberlander deported summarily, I have not rushed to judgment. I have stated that I am not competent -- nor is the federal cabinet -- to arbitrate between differing judicial opinions."

In its own news release, the congress's outgoing president Moshe Ronen is quoted as calling Telegdi's comparison of Canadian law to a Hitler-style regime as "an insult to all victims of Nazi barbarism."

Cambridge Liberal MP Janko Peric, meanwhile, said if Telegdi is expelled from caucus "that would be a sad, sad day for all new Canadians, including myself." He would be penalized only "for fighting for justice. And justice must prevail."

Peric, who emigrated from Croatia in 1968, supports Telegdi's position on citizenship revocation.