Response to Abella

To Ottawa Citizen | April 03, 2002 | Robert Keyserlingk

To: [email protected]
Re: Genocide Has No Expiry Date, April 02, 2002

Professor Abella, Harold Margolian and I agree that there is no statute of limitations on genocide. War criminals should be brought to justice under our Canadian judicial system.

However, Professor Abella pushes his case too far on two points; how this should legally be done, and whether the accused receive due process and full access to our judicial system.

First, as Mr. Margolian wrote, under Canadian law we do normally stay prosecution if the accused is mentally incompetent or senile. That's fundamental to our system.

Secondly, those accused here of war crimes are not always given due process. Canadian judges have frequently decided that the accused was not a war criminal, yet the case against him was continued on the much flimsier grounds that he may have collaborated with the Germans and possibly have lied about it upon entry to Canada.

Hearsay or speculative evidence is not generally permitted in our courts. As Professor Abella well knows, the pertinent immigration paper work has been destroyed years ago. Yet retired ex-immigration officers with no recall about or personal contact with the person on trial are permitted to give general testimony to the effect that, yes, immigration officers overseas in the late 1940s must have asked all the relevant background questions of the tens of thousands of Displaced Persons we hastily brought into Canada. Therefore the accused must have probably lied upon entry. Judges are directed under our war crimes legislation to accept this incredibly low level of evidence. Some do and some don't. It's a lottery.

I was a Foreign Service Officer in the Citizenship and Immigration Department stationed in Germany in the 1950s. I sadly know how shallow our screening process overseas was at that time. The Cold War was on and we looked for communists, not Nazis. As our Immigration regulations changed in the late 1950s, we were told to let in real Nazis including ex-Party, SS and even Gestapo members. Now there are the real big fish - but apparently we can't touch them as they came in legally.

Why does Professor Abella and his committee not try to go after these real ex-Nazis here rather than the generally very small fish now under scrutiny; usually at the time quite young, half-literate East Europeans forced into Nazi service at the very lowest level, and who have so often been found by our Canadian judges not to be guilty of war crimes?

Robert H. Keyserlingk, PhD
Retired Professor of History,
University of Ottawa