Toronto Sun | May 05, 2003 | Peter Worthington

Deportations defy justice

New act refuses seniors the right of appeal

Although it escaped the notice of The Toronto Sun, in mid-April the great Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal announced his retirement.

At age 94, he considers his life work done and is closing his files after helping bring some 3,000 WWII Nazis to justice.

"My real work -- the search for criminals -- is over," he told Britain's Sunday Telegraph, reprinted in the Jerusalem Post.

"If there are any that at are still alive ... it is too late to bring them to justice. They would be too old now, so my work is done," he said.

Tell that to the Canadian immigration department, which has a handful of aging Ukrainians who, as teenagers, were coerced into working for the Nazis, it wants deported.

These individuals were never war criminals. They were not members of the Nazi party. They have been cleared by Canadian courts of possible crimes -- but may have withheld details when entering Canada after WWII, so are being kicked out.

Wasyl Odynsky and Helmut Oberlander, both pushing 80, are awaiting deportation. (Six others have died during proceedings). Odynsky and Oberlander have been productive citizens of Canada, but as teenagers in Ukraine in WWII were forced to work for Nazis, one as an auxiliary guard on pain of death to his parents, the other as a translator.

There is not even solid proof that they lied when entering Canada during the hectic days after WWII.

Superior Court Justice Andrew MacKay felt in the absence of any records, it was "probable" they hadn't told all the truth about their Nazi service.

In those postwar days, Canada was concerned more about Communists entering Canada than it was about defeated Nazis.

The new Citizenship Act, Bill C-18, proposes that the minister of citizenship and immigration should be able to annul the citizenship and deport without the right of appeal anyone who entered Canada and failed to disclose background information.

This process was started with Bill C-16, which Parliament passed but died when a general election intervened. Elinor Caplan was immigration minister, and was frustrated that war-crimes cases were failing in the courts.

In 2000, when she sought to deport people without right of appeal, her parliamentary secretary, Andrew Telegdi, (MP for Kitchener-Waterloo) resigned.

Telegdi insists all citizens, be they born here or naturalized, should have equal rights. Only the courts should be able to revoke citizenship, when there's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The right of appeal should apply to everyone -- a basic to the legal system.

These conditions seem fundamental to our democracy.

Telegdi and virtually every element in Canada -- except the Canadian Jewish Congress -- supports the right of people like Odynsky and Oberlander to appeal deportation.

Hearings have been held across Canada in this regard, and support for the appeal process verges on unanimous.

No matter how you scrutinize the cases of Odynsky and Oberlander, neither seems to qualify either as a war criminal or an undesirable citizen -- something Judge MacKay pointed out.

If the federal government seeks to expel or deport people without the right of appeal, it indicates something seriously amiss within the federal government.

Andrew Telegdi, who came to Canada from Hungary as a child, is a loyal Liberal party member who is "shocked" that the essential flaw of Bill C-16 is repeated in Bill C-18: Deportation without appeal on the whim of the minister.

"It is my perception that it's the bureaucrats rather than our elected representatives that develop policy, write legislation and then implement and execute them," he says.

We insist on an appeal process for murderers and rapists, but not for aging Ukrainians who've committed no crime.

Simon Wiesenthal, whose post-concentration camp life was dedicated to justice, surely wouldn't oppose the right of appeal -- even for those he feels are "too old and fragile to stand trial."