Kitchener-Waterloo Record | Saturday August 04, 2001 | Editorial

Oberlander case needs full review

Justice has not yet been done in the case of Helmut Oberlander. It is true that the federal cabinet has decided to strip the 77-year-old Waterloo man of his Canadian citizenship.

It is true that a federal court judge ruled Oberlander lied about his membership in a Nazi death squad in order to immigrate to Canada. And it is true that many Canadians fervently believe it is time for Oberlander to go. He has surely, they would say, had his day in court.

But given the complexity of a case that stretches back 60 years into the chaos of the Second World War, and given the extreme penalty Oberlander faces -- the loss of his citizenship and expulsion from Canada -- even more needs to happen before anyone can say he has enjoyed the full benefit of the due process of law.

To say this is an unusual case is an understatement. It is a maze that runs through shadows. There have been only a few cases like it since the government established its policy of deportation and denaturalization in 1995 to deal with wrongs done in the Second World War. If Oberlander is deported, he would, in fact, be the first to go under this policy. Because this process is such a rarity, even for judges and lawyers, it needs to be handled with utmost care.

Before the official pen signs the official paper that sends Oberlander packing, it is imperative that judges review not only the cabinet decision, but more crucially, the original ruling of Justice Andrew MacKay to ensure that these verdicts are all legally correct.

This review will happen -- though how thorough it is remains to be seen. Given what is at stake, it is essential that the review be both detailed and exhaustive. This will take time -- perhaps years which will frustrate those who believe Oberlander should be expelled soon. Many Canadians, particularly those who suffered at the hands of the German state or lost loved ones to its depravities, believe his involvement in a police unit responsible for the deaths of at least 23,000 civilians makes him unfit to remain in this land.

We share their loathing of the Third Reich and its inhuman killing machines. But we do not agree with their assessment of the facts presented in Oberlander's trial. In our view, insufficient evidence was presented in court to prove that Oberlander lied to enter Canada or to warrant his expulsion. This is why, though we do not doubt their integrity, we disagree with those who want Oberlander thrown out of Canada as soon as possible. In this case, haste might not just make waste, it could make injustice.

The deep and bitter divisions that this case has caused are regrettable. A complete review will not simply accord to Oberlander the process of justice that is due to him -- and to every individual in this country -- it will help people move beyond those divisions. Because whatever the final outcome, it will be seen as the conclusion of a full process involving not one but several of our learned judges.

So, let the country's top legal minds review Justice MacKay's conclusions. Let the judges review the cabinet decision, which has so far been shrouded in total secrecy. And let everything then be laid before public eyes. No one should fear this. It is possible that when other legal minds review MacKay's decision, they will find that it is flawed. If they confirm MacKay's ruling, the grounds for Oberlander's expulsion will be even stronger. As far as we have come in the case of Helmut Oberlander, justice demands that we still have far to go.