Caplan will seek to expel ex-Nazi soldier

Toronto Globe and Mail, May 03, 2001

Immigration Minister Elinor Caplan will recommend the federal cabinet strip a Canadian man of his citizenship and deport him for lying about his wartime service in a Nazi unit that exterminated thousands of Jews, sources say.

But, in an unprecedented step, Ms. Caplan is giving Helmut Oberlander and his lawyer a 30-day deadline to provide her with a written report detailing their arguments against deportation, sources told The Globe and Mail Wednesday.

Ms. Caplan promised that she will make the report available to cabinet along with her recommendation, sources said. "She is giving him one more kick at the can," a source said.

The recommendation comes after a year of conflicting pressure from rival ethnic groups. The 75-year-old grandfather from Kitchener, Ont., would be only the second person to lose Canadian citizenship for his Second World War history. Botanist Jacob Luitjens was deported to the Netherlands in 1992 for collaborating with the Nazi occupying army.

A Federal Court judge in February, 2000, paved the way for Mr. Oberlander's deportation after finding that while the retired property developer was not involved in mass executions, he was a member of an infamous Nazi police unit that massacred more than 90,000 Jews in Eastern Europe, and that he lied about it to get into Canada in 1954.

Mr. Oberlander, who has denied he participated in killing civilians or rounding up Jews for execution, became a translator for the unit willingly or not in 1941 at the age of 17. He served in that and other German units in Eastern Europe until the end of the war, unarmed at first but later carrying a submachine gun in missions against anti-Nazi partisans.

Ms. Caplan made her offer of a written report in a letter that was to be delivered by courier this week to Mr. Oberlander's lawyer, Eric Hafemann, sources said. As well, Ms. Caplan has provided Mr. Hafemann with a copy of her department's lengthy final report on the controversial case, sources said.

"She basically told him [Mr. Hafemann] that the clock is ticking," a source said. "She is saying: 'You have 30 days, if you want to say anything else to cabinet, give it to me now.'"

Mr. Oberlander was unavailable for comment Wednesday. Mr. Hafemann said he has not received Ms. Caplan's letter and dismissed her offer outright.

"It's silly," Mr. Hafemann said Wednesday. "Do you think I have any confidence in making reports to my opponents?"

Mr. Hafemann said he submitted a detailed report to every Liberal cabinet minister last May rebutting the judge's findings against his client. He said he has applied for a judicial review of the judge's ruling. He also said that he hopes the cabinet will not approve Ms. Caplan's recommendation.

The president of the Canadian Jewish Congress welcomed the possibility of Ms. Caplan's recommendation that Mr. Oberlander be stripped of his citizenship.

"We commend Ms. Caplan for doing the morally right thing. This isn't about politics, it's about justice," Moshe Ronan said.

Mr. Caplan's delay in deciding Mr. Oberlander's fate sparked an increasingly bitter dispute between the minister, the Canadian Jewish Congress and German-Canadian groups.

Earlier this year, for example, leaders of Canada's Jewish community slammed Ms. Caplan and the government for buckling under alleged political pressure from German Canadians.

A spokesman for the German-Canadian Congress told The Globe earlier this year that the group had met with Ms. Caplan and other cabinet ministers and urged them to end Mr. Oberlander's "nightmare" and allow him to remain in Canada.

But Nazi hunters who worked for Ottawa have also harshly criticized Ms. Caplan and her cabinet colleagues for failing to move more swiftly against Mr. Oberlander, denouncing the delay as inexcusable and a subversion of justice.

News of Ms. Caplan's decision comes just days before the CJC holds its annual plenary in Toronto this weekend, where prominent members of the Liberal cabinet, including Defence Minister Art Eggleton, are scheduled to attend.