By Henry R. Keyserlingk - Retired Crown Prosecutor, Quebec
Sherbrooke Record April 25, 2001
As a career prosecutor I naturally assumed the federal government had all the right reasons when it decided to try and revoke the citizenship of 77- year old Wasyl Odynsky so as to deport him to Western Ukraine, where he was born.
And why not - Like most Canadians, I have always supported the government's policy to revoke the citizenship and to deport those persons living in Canada who have committed war crimes, crimes against humanity or other reprehensible acts and who have lied about their backgrounds in order to enter Canada .
Considering the allegations that Wasyl Odynsky had obtained his citizenship under false pretenses for failing to divulge his war time activities to Canadian officials when he was admitted to Canada, over fifty years ago, I figured it was an open and shut case. I assumed that he had committed the worst atrocities if only because the Minister's Notice of Revocation of Citizenship, claimed that he failed to divulge his activities when he worked as a guard at forced labour and concentration camps in Poland during the period 1943-1944. Besides, it never occurred to me that any reasonable and fair minister would choose to initiate such costly legal procedures for conduct that occurred over half a century ago unless their target had committed a very serious offence.
Furthermore, since deportation is worse than most criminal sentences, all the more with a law that provides no right of appeal, I was expecting Wasyl Odynsky to fit the profile of a viscous and brutal guard so often associated with WW 2 concentration camps. However, as I began reading through last month's lengthy federal court ruling which decided in favor of the government, a totally different image emerged of Odynsky's past, one that was marked by pain and suffering .
By the time I finished reading the judgment that followed a 29-day hearing, I was convinced that the government had committed a serious injustice when it sought to revoke his citizenship.
When he was only 11 his older brother was killed by Russian troops while trying to hide arms for the Ukrainian nationals. In 1944, his father who was a farmer in Beleluja, was arrested and imprisoned for more than a year by the Russians. His mother was taken by the Russians to forced labour in the Soviet Union, and only after 10 years was she able to join her husband in Kazakhstan.
In early February 1943, like many other young people, he was ordered by the Germans to serve as an auxiliary with the German army. When he and a few others refused they were jailed and warned that any further attempt to escape service would lead to their execution, and that their families would be sent to concentration camps. Following some routine training, Odynsky, who was only 19 at the time and barely literate, was assigned to a company of guards and transferred to Poniatowa where the SS operated a camp with forced labour, primarily Jews from the Warsaw ghetto. His job was to serve as a perimeter camp guard against possible attack by partisans.
With less than six months doing guard work the forced labour activities came to a sudden end. In early November 1943, while Odynsky and his fellow guards were confined to their barracks, the German Waffen SS and SS police forces entered into the camps and shot the many thousands of Jewish and other forced laborers and their families.
After reviewing the evidence the judge ruled that Odynsky's service at the various camps was not voluntary and that there was no evidence that he participated personally in any incident involving mistreatment of prisoners or of any other person during his service .
The crux of the government's case turned on the question as to whether Odynsky informed the authorities as to his wartime activities, namely his six months stint as involuntary prison guard.
The evidence revealed that after a few weeks in the American POW camp, Mr. Odynsky stayed in a camp for displaced Ukrainian persons until early in 1949. In 1948 he married Maria, also from Ukraine, who had been removed by the Germans early in 1943 as a forced laborer to work on a German farm. In early 1949, the couple presented their application to come to Canada, he as an agricultural worker or farmer. Under the Immigration Act Mr. Odynsky had an obligation to respond truthfully to questions asked by those concerned to review his application to come to Canada. He claimed that he was never asked any questions about his wartime activities . Although there was never any direct evidence to the contrary, the judge concluded on a balance of probabilities, that such questions had indeed been asked.
However, the judge also concluded that there was no evidence whatsoever of any wrongdoing by Mr. Odynsky since he came to Canada and that the evidence commended his good character while reflecting his standing within his church and Ukrainian community. Since I959 he and Mrs. Odynsky have lived in Toronto where their three children were born and where he worked driving trucks until retirement.
Considering the fact that his only transgression of the law consisted of not disclosing his short stint as a prison guard it is indeed scandalous that any government agency would waste so much money and human resources. It is equally absurd that such a deadly consequence can await a Canadian immigrant who, for so many years, has lived a productive and law abiding life, especially on evidence based largely on deductions and inferences. Had he been charged under our criminal justice system the evidence would have been insufficient to meet the long established threshold that requires guilt to be proven beyond reasonable doubt.
As to the principle that a punishment must always be in proportion to the crime could it be that it was conveniently forgotten by a few politicians and bureaucrats who wanted to appease the extremists within certain special-interest groups?
Perhaps somebody or some persons wanted to use Wasyl Odynsky as a scapegoat to make up for the lack of success in prosecuting war criminals .
The only hope remaining for Wasyl Odynsky and his family is that the Minister of Justice, Anne McLellan, will see the writing on the wall and prevent a further injustice by refusing to carry through with the revocation of his citizenship or at the very least, prevent his deportation from Canada.