MP sorry for Nazi Germany analogy

Jewish Congress withdraws calls for punishment

Janice Tibbetts
Southam Newspapers

Under pressure from the prime minister and Canada's Jewish leaders, a Liberal backbencher apologized Wednesday for comparing the government to Nazi Germany.

Andrew Telegdi, MP for Kitchener-Waterloo, stood in the House of Commons to read an emotional statement in which he said he loathed everything about the Hitler regime, particularly since his stepfather "suffered terribly under both the Nazi and Soviet dictatorship."

Telegdi, who was first elected in 1993, enraged the Canadian Jewish Congress after a report in the Kitchener-Waterloo Record in which he likened Canada's deportation policy for suspected Nazi collaborators to Hitler's totalitarian regime.

"I have no intention to imply or suggest that our country or our judiciary is in any way to be compared with Naziism or Stalinism," he said in the Commons.

"I mean no offense to any group or individual. If my lack of clarity caused hurt or discomfort to them, I apologize."

His statement was vetted beforehand by Liberal whip Marlene Caterall.

Telegdi also appeased Prime Minister Jean Chretien by promising during a meeting Wednesday he would withdraw his comment that the government policy of banning appeal rights for suspected Nazi collaborators "is like Hitler used to do."

Chretien's press secretary, Duncan Fulton, said the prime minister "fully accepted" the apology.

"We think he clarified his comments and apologized for any offence it may have caused," Fulton said.

Chretien's own relationship with the Jewish community is particularly sensitive, since he was forced to make amends during the 2000 election campaign, when he wrote a letter of apology to Jewish leaders for Canada's support of a United Nations Security Council resolution critical of Israel.

Kieth Landy, the new president of the Canadian Jewish Congress, described Telegdi's apology as "perfunctory," but he said it will be accepted nonetheless. The congress will withdraw its call for Telegdi to be punished, he said. "The emphasis here is that we all should be careful with the language we use," said Landy. "Hitler was a monster and comparison between him and Nazi Germany and a democratic country is foolish and non-thinking."

Telegdi, a refugee from Hungary, has been on a crusade for more than a year to reverse the immigration policy, saying naturalized Canadians should have the same right to due process in Canada's courts as other citizens.

His battle began after the Federal Court set the stage in February 2000 for the deportation of one of his constituents, Helmut Oberlander.

The court found Oberlander, a member of a Nazi unit that exterminated tens of thousands of Jews during the Second World War, lied about his past to get into the country in 1957.

Under federal law, naturalized citizens whom the Federal Court of Canada finds obtained their citizenship fraudulently do not have the right to appeal to the Federal Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court of Canada.

The policy has been unsuccessfully challenged in the Federal Court, which ruled the law does not violate a person's Charter of Rights guarantee of life, liberty and security of the person because the court only makes preliminary findings, not final decisions, on deportation.

It is now up to the federal cabinet to revoke Oberlander's citizenship following a recent recommendation from Immigration Minister Elinor Caplan. Jewish leaders have been vigorously lobbying for Oberlander's removal.

The 76-year-old retired developer is one of 17 people who have been pursued by the federal government through the courts under a five-year-old federal initiative to rid Canada of suspected Nazi collaborators.