Telegdi to meet with Chretien

Kitchener-Waterloo RECORD | May 9, 2001

Philip Jalsevac, RECORD STAFF

Liberal MP Andrew Telegdi , now enmeshed in a national controversy, was expected to explain to Prime Minister Jean Chretien today his comments comparing government policy on citizenship revocation to Nazi Germany.

After meeting Chretien and the Liberal caucus this morning, Telegdi is scheduled to make a statement in the House of Commons and hold a news conference later today.

There is some speculation that the member for Kitchener-Waterloo will apologize for his remarks. But it is not known whether he will resign or be expelled from the party, as demanded by the Canadian Jewish Congress.

"We're waiting for him to come to town," Chretien said following a meeting of his cabinet yesterday. "He claims the (Record) article was unfair. We'll talk to him."

Don McCurdy, managing editor of The Record, said the paper stands by its reporting of Telegdi's comments.

The controversy started last week, when Telegdi raised his long-standing objection to government policy whereby the cabinet decides whether somebody should be stripped of citizenship as a first step to deportation. The MP steadfastly maintains such decisions should be dealt with by the courts.

Leaving it in the arbitrary hands of politicians, Telegdi said "smacks of a totalitarian regime" such as those of Hitler and Stalin.

It would be "fundamentally unjust" if Ottawa deported his constituent, Helmut Oberlander of Waterloo, over a court decision which he cannot appeal, he argued.

Last year, a Federal Court judge found there was no evidence that Oberlander, 77, committed war crimes. However, Justice Andrew MacKay ruled Oberlander did fail to disclose to immigration officials his role as an interpreter with an infamous Nazi death squad in the Second World War.

On that basis, Immigration Minister Elinor Caplan is recommending cabinet strip Oberlander of his citizenship.

It is not known when cabinet will make its decision, although Oberlander was given 30 days last Thursday to make a final submission.

Earlier this week, a spokesman for Chretien, said Telegdi's remarks about Hitler were "extreme and offensive" but declined to say whether any disciplinary action will be taken.

Edgar Bronfman, president of the World Jewish Congress, also entered the fray over Telegdi's comments.

"It's a disgrace and beneath contempt," Bronfman said. "Mr. Telegdi apparently operates in an Alice-in-Wonderland world, where black is white and justice becomes injustice."

Telegdi was declining all interviews yesterday.

Reevin Vinetsky, his executive assistant in Ottawa, said yesterday afternoon that the MP has been in touch with Chretien but said: "I don't know what's transpired."

Bob Byron, president of the Liberal Kitchener-Waterloo riding association, was reluctant to comment yesterday.

He said Telegdi is expressing "his own strong personal beliefs." For his part, Byron said he doesn't feel "competent enough to debate the merits of the case any which way at all."

Meanwhile, Dianne Baker, the MP's constituency assistant in Waterloo, said her office has been deluged by hundreds of phone calls in recent days.

Only four people have voiced criticism, she said, while most are offering support, urging Telegdi to "stand firm" and congratulating him for showing "integrity and guts."

Baker added: "We've had people (call) who are not even Liberals wanting to work for him in the next election."