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Imre Finta found not guilty of war crimes

The Story

"I never was an anti-Semite, I never was a Nazi," an exonerated Imre Finta says after a long and emotional court struggle. Finta, a former Hungarian police officer, was charged with manslaughter, kidnapping, unlawful confinement and robbery. He was accused of committing these acts while forcing the deportation of 8,617 Hungarian Jews. The trial, the first since Bill 71 extended Canada's jurisdiction to prosecute, was heard over the course of six months. The surprising verdict sets a demanding precedent. 

Medium: Television
Program: CBC News
Broadcast Date: May 25, 1990
Guest(s): Chris Amerasinghe, Howard English, Imre Finta, Barbara Kulaszka, Eugene Lawrence, Manuel Prutschi, Ernst Zundel
Host: Alison Smith
Reporter: Vicki Russell
Duration: 2:46

Did You know?

• Imre Finta immigrated to Canada in 1953 and bought the Candlelight restaurant in Toronto. He later opened the Moulin Rouge restaurant and a catering business. He became a Canadian citizen in 1956.

• During the emotional trial, witnesses traveled from Europe to testify. Joesepha Vardi, an Auschwitz survivor, recalled Finta as "the lord of life and death at the time."

• Finta's defence based their case on the argument that their client was only following orders in the chain of command. Lawyer Doug Christie argued that Finta was merely responsible for transporting Jews. He likened Finta's role to the RCMP who forced the Japanese-Canadian evacuation of British Columbia during the Second World War.

• "Even where the orders are manifestly unlawful, the defence of obedience to superior orders and the peace-officer defence will be available in those circumstances where the accused had no moral choice as to whether to follow the order," Mr. Justice Peter Cory wrote in his decision to acquit Finta.

• Helen Smolak, chairman of the Canadian Holocaust Remembrance Association, told Maclean's that the Finta verdict "makes us lose faith in the justice system of Canada." Justice Jules Deschênes pragmatically responded to the judgment by saying, "They charged him. He was acquitted. Justice was served."

• The case was appealed and rejected before the Ontario Court of Appeal in 1992 and the Supreme Court of Canada in 1994. The Supreme Court also unanimously ruled that the Criminal Code legislation used to prosecute Finta was unconstitutional.

• Following the Supreme Court decision, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Sergio Marchi and Minister of Justice Allan Rock announced a procedural change. Instead of trying to prosecute war criminals under the Criminal Code, Ottawa would attempt to revoke citizenship and deport people who lied about their backgrounds in order to gain entry to Canada.

• Imre Finta died in December 2003 in Toronto at the age of 92.


Fleeing Justice: War Criminals in Canada more