Kitchener-Waterloo Record | Jan. 08, 2004 | Jeff Outhit

Conduct of federal ministers questioned

Caplan, McLellan may have had conflict in Oberlander case: judge

A Kitchener judge is prepared to put cabinet secrecy on trial in the case of Helmut Oberlander.

Justice Robert Reilly even challenged the conduct of two cabinet ministers when he agreed to a constitutional hearing that could see him restore Oberlander's citizenship.

Oberlander, 79, served as an interpreter with a Nazi death squad that murdered more than 23,000 civilians, mostly Jews, in the Second World War.

The retired Waterloo developer contends he was treated unfairly when the federal cabinet stripped him of his citizenship in July 2001.

In a 28-page ruling released yesterday, Reilly agreed the secretive cabinet process may have violated principles of fundamental justice under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

His ruling has halted the government's deportation bid.

Reilly said Oberlander's citizenship was revoked by a cabinet committee that acted as a tribunal to determine his fate.

However, the government has refused to say which politicians sat on the tribunal and has not confirmed whether they reviewed written information from Oberlander.

Oberlander was not permitted to attend or send a lawyer to represent him. He has also complained the cabinet refused to release detailed reasons for its decision.

Reilly, of the Superior Court of Justice, has ordered a new hearing to decide if he should give Oberlander his citizenship back.

"It is clear that the revocation of his citizenship must accord with principles of fundamental justice," Reilly stated.

"His concern over the process before (cabinet) and whether such process was in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice requires determination by this court."

The judge raised concerns about the conduct of Elinor Caplan, former citizenship minister, and Anne McLellan, former attorney general. The ministers were "involved in a clear conflict of interest" if they voted to revoke citizenship while prosecuting Oberlander, Reilly said.

But it's not known if the ministers were part of the cabinet tribunal.

"The court to date has been given no assurances either way," Reilly wrote.

Reilly will also hear Oberlander's accusations of government misconduct for alleging war crimes but providing no proof.

Instead, the government convinced a Federal Court judge in 2000 that Oberlander lied about his involvement with the death squad when emigrating from Germany in 1954.

"The government will vigorously defend against any allegations of misconduct," Citizenship and Immigration Canada spokesman Jean-Pierre Morin said yesterday.

Morin would not comment on court concerns about the conduct of cabinet ministers. He could not say if the government will appeal Reilly's intervention in a prosecution that's dragged on eight years with no end in sight.

The Federal Court, Morin said, has supported the process that revoked Oberlander's citizenship.

But Reilly contended the Federal Court has not dealt with the same constitutional challenge.

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