CBC Digital Archives

Lesson Plan: For Teachers: Is Canada a Safe Haven for War Criminals?

History, Social Studies, Political Science
To examine actions taken by the Canadian government against alleged war criminals in the country
In this introductory activity, students will examine how the Canadian government responded to claims that alleged war criminals were hiding in Canada.

Lesson Plan

Before Exploring

Write the terms "war crimes," "crimes against humanity," and "crimes against peace" on the board. Ask: What types of offences are committed under these designated terms? Create a word web highlighting the types of actions that are considered illegal.

War crimes are offences that take place during an armed conflict and that violate international laws of war. They may include torture, inhumane treatment, and unlawful deportation. Crimes against humanity include acts of violence such as murder, extermination, and persecution based on political, racial, or religious grounds. Crimes against peace include the planning and waging of wars of aggression in violation of international laws.

Discuss with students how Nazi war criminals were arrested and prosecuted for their crimes during the Nuremberg Trials held in Nuremberg, Germany, in 1945-46. No longer could criminals hide behind the defence of simply following orders to be exonerated for crimes against humanity. Individuals were held accountable for their actions. While some war criminals were tried and convicted for their crimes, many alleged war criminals evaded capture and fled to other countries for safety.

After the Second World War, some alleged war criminals fled to Canada. In response to allegations that Canada had become a safe haven for alleged Nazi war criminals, the Canadian government set up the Commission of Inquiry on War Criminals to investigate the issue. In 1987, the Deschênes Commission Report was released, expressing the conclusion that Canada did have suspected war criminals hiding within its borders.

Outline the Opportunity

Direct students to the topic Fleeing Justice: War Criminals in Canada on the CBC Digital Archives website. In small groups, have students view the clips "The Helmut Rauca case," "The Deschênes Commission," "Imre Finta: not guilty" and "The Nazi hunter" and read the text for these clips.  As students view the clips, they will examine cases involving alleged war criminals living in Canada and become familiar with the processes used by the Canadian government to bring war criminals to justice.

Using the download sheet 'Is Canada a Safe Haven for War Criminals?' students will highlight specific cases and distinguish between the legal processes of extradition, deportation, denaturalization, and prosecution.

Revisit and Reflect

Students will share the information gathered in their investigation charts and describe the legal processes used to bring alleged war criminals to justice. How successful has the government been in dealing with prosecuting war criminals? What problems have been encountered?

Assessment Tip: Look for clear identification of the alleged crimes and the actions taken against the alleged war criminals.


Students can write a letter to their MP expressing their opinion on whether Canada is a safe haven for war criminals. Has the Canadian government suitably responded to the issue?


Download PDF

Related Content

D-Day: Canadians Target Juno Beach

They sailed in under cover of darkness to smash down the walls of "Fortress Europe." On June 6...

1942: War effort spreads to butter

Government adds butter to the growing list of rationed food.

1944: 91 die in sinking of HMCS Shawinigan

A Second World War veteran recalls the day a German U-boat sank the ill-fated Canadian warship...

1944: Polish resistance launches Warsaw Upris...

Forty years later, Polish-Canadians remember their 63-day struggle against Nazi rule during th...

Toronto's Infamous 'Boyd Gang'

It's the early 1950s, and banks are popping up all over "Toronto the Good." So too is a daring...

The Rise and Fall of Alan Eagleson

He never played the game, but he was the most powerful man in hockey. Alan Eagleson played man...