MP sorry for 'lack of clarity'

Citizenship remarks caused furore

Thursday May 10, 2001
Philip Jalsevac

OTTAWA -- Liberal MP Andrew Telegdi apologized in the House of Commons yesterday over controversial remarks he made comparing Canadian law on citizenship to totalitarian regimes.

At the same time, the Kitchener-Waterloo MP claimed "some comments I made have been misunderstood, misinterpreted and misstated. I had no intention to imply or suggest that our country or our judiciary is in any way to be compared with Nazism or Stalinism.

"I meant no offence to any group or individual. If my lack of clarity caused hurt or discomfort to them, I apologize."

A hush fell over the nearly full House as an emotional Telegdi made his statement at the end of question period. And when he was finished, almost all members on both sides of the House gave him a standing ovation.

Telegdi thanked the MPs "for their restraint and understanding in not attacking me on recent controversial statements attributed to me in the media." He went on to cite his background as a Hungarian refugee who fled Soviet oppression.

He said his mother, a Roman Catholic, and his stepfather, a Jew, "suffered terribly under both the Nazi and Soviet dictatorships."

While apologetic, Telegdi nevertheless repeated his argument that revocation of a person's citizenship should be dealt with by the courts and not by the politicians who comprise the federal cabinet.

"My concern is for the principle of fair and proper treatment for everyone, whether born in Canada, or like me, a Canadian by choice."

In recent articles in The Record, which caused a national controversy, Telegdi criticized the policy of leaving the decision on citizenship revocation in the hands of the cabinet. He said "it smacks of a totalitarian regime" such as those of Hitler and Stalin.

The MP made his remarks while saying he would lobby against stripping the citizenship of Helmut Oberlander of Waterloo. A Federal Court judge ruled there was no evidence Oberlander committed war crimes. But he found the 77-year-old retired developer misled immigration officials by failing to disclose his record as an interpreter with a Nazi death squad in the Second World War.

Immigration Minister Elinor Caplan has now recommended to cabinet that he be stripped of his citizenship.

After Telegdi's statement yesterday, deputy prime minister Herb Gray said: "I accept his comments and particularly his apology and his clarification. I think his statement should end the matter."

Outraged officials of the Canadian Jewish Congress have demanded Telegdi be expelled from the Liberal party and caucus.

However, Liberal whip Marlene Catterall said she would be the one to advise Prime Minister Jean Chretien on disciplinary action and said: "It's not a recommendation I have made or will make."

Catterall said "obviously, Mr. Telegdi's comments created a lot of controversy." However, she said: "He's apologized for those comments and, to me, that's the end of that."

As for his statement to the House, Catterall said she reviewed it beforehand and "he delivered it virtually as written (by Telegdi). I corrected one thing that would have been out of order had he said it in the House."

At a news conference later, Telegdi acknowledged Catterall's involvement but said he was under no pressure "to do this or do that'' in responding to the controversy. He also said he didn't speak to Chretien other than to exchange a few remarks "when I passed him in the hallway."

Telegdi played a videotape for reporters of him speaking passionately in the House last year against proposed legislation that left citizenship revocation in the hands of the cabinet.

He was then peppered with questions about the accuracy of the earlier news reports regarding his comments.

Initially, when asked why he referred to Hitler in criticizing government policy, Telegdi said: "I have said everything I was going to say (in his statement to the House)."

When the reporter pressed him, the MP responded that "Canada is in no way similar" to Nazi Germany.

The Record then asked if he is now denying the statements attributed to him in its news reports. Telegdi skirted the question and simply said "if I wasn't as clear as I could have been, for that I apologize."

Telegdi appeared uncomfortable with the grilling and eventually called a halt to the news conference.

As several reporters followed him down a corridor, he stopped briefly and said to one: "This thing has really taken on a twist that wasn't my intent."

Kitchener-Waterloo Record 2000
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