Oberlander should stay, area MPs say

Saturday May 12, 2001
Philip Jalsevac

WATERLOO REGION -- Liberal MP Karen Redman says the federal cabinet should grant clemency and take no action against Helmut Oberlander of Waterloo over failing to disclose his service with an infamous German killing unit during the Second World War.

Redman's statement, issued in a news release yesterday, means there are now three local Liberal MPs opposed to deporting Oberlander, although each cites different reasons.

Redman, the member for Kitchener Centre, said Justice Andrew MacKay of the Federal Court of Canada ruled last year there was no evidence Oberlander, 77, was a member of the SS, "nor was he involved directly or indirectly in the execution of civilians," as the government had originally alleged.

MacKay, however, did find Oberlander lied to immigration officials about his wartime record as an interpreter with an Einsatzkommando unit. And based on that, Immigration Minister Elinor Caplan has recommended to cabinet he be stripped of citizenship.

Redman's stance has inflamed the Canadian Jewish Congress.

"We're surprised that she would make such a request," executive director Bernie Farber said.

"We want to remind Ms. Redman that the Einsatzkommando was the most notorious, heinous gang of killers in recorded history . . . the term clemency was not a word that ever entered their mind."

Regarding Oberlander, Farber said: "It doesn't matter what he did or did not do. He was a member of that group . . . he is no longer welcome in this country and must leave."

Redman responded in an interview that "we have freedom of speech and expression and this whole issue is hugely emotional.

"They're expressing deeply held feelings."

However, she said the cabinet should consider "humanitarian aspects" in this case.

"Personally, I strongly believe Mr. Oberlander should be allowed to remain in Canada."

Janko Peric, the Liberal MP for Cambridge, said "it's ridiculous" to act on MacKay's finding when they are based only on a balance of probabilities and not proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Oberlander has maintained he was never asked about his wartime record.

And Peric said in a separate interview: "Assuming that somebody lied is unacceptable. We have no proof and the case should be closed. Amen."

Kitchener-Waterloo MP Andrew Telegdi takes yet a different tack and is opposed to deportation because he maintains such decisions should be made by the courts and not the politicians in the cabinet.

"I would not want mercy if I know I'm innocent. Don't give me compassion. Give me justice," Telegdi said.

However, when asked if he is outright opposed to clemency, the MP said: "You're not going to get a yes or no answer out of me. The process is so convoluted and unfair."

Eric Hafemann, Oberlander's lawyer, said he was advised in correspondence from Caplan that he could address the issue of clemency in a final submission to cabinet.

His first argument, he said, is that no action be taken based on the faulty ruling of MacKay. If he loses that one, "they should look at compassionate grounds.

"Whether it's Mr. Oberlander or anybody else, it's -- quite frankly --cruel punishment that doesn't fit the offence," Hafemann added.

If a person is deported based on "irregularities in immigration 50 years ago," the lawyer said, that's equivalent to "tak(ing) a senior citizen and end(ing) his meaningful life. Their family is here, their children and grandchildren. Their whole life is here. It's similar to being banished to some desert island."

Oberlander is "under a lot of stress, so it's better he doesn't say anything right now," said his wife, Margret.

However, she called Redman's support "very encouraging. This is a step in the right direction. It would be wonderful if the cabinet would take the advice from our MPs. We keep on hoping and praying for a good outcome."

She added that "wherever we go, everybody supports us. It's overwhelming . . . That helps us to cope."


Kitchener-Waterloo Record 2000
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