Politics

Supreme Court rejects appeal from ex-Nazi interpreter, clearing way for deportation

Canada's top court has decided not to hear an appeal from a 95-year-old ex-Nazi interpreter fighting to retain his Canadian citizenship, a decision that ultimately could lead to Helmut Oberlander's deportation.

Federal government is stripping 95-year-old Helmut Oberlander of his Canadian citizenship

The Supreme Court of Canada has decided not to hear a case involving Helmut Oberlander. The federal government has stripped him of citizenship and wants to deport him. (Supplied by B'Nai Brith)

Canada's top court has decided not to hear an appeal from a 95-year-old ex-Nazi interpreter who was fighting to retain his Canadian citizenship.

The court's decision means the government is now cleared to begin deportation proceedings against Helmut Oberlander.

The Waterloo, Ont., man has been engaged in a legal battle with the federal government since 1995, when the RCMP launched an investigation into his alleged involvement in war crimes during the Second World War. That triggered a process to strip him of his Canadian citizenship, which he challenged through the courts.

According to the summary of the case filed on the Supreme Court's website, this is the government's fourth attempt to revoke Oberlander's Canadian citizenship on grounds that he "significantly misrepresented his wartime activities" to Canadian immigration officials.

Oberlander has said he was forcibly conscripted by the Nazis when he was 17 years old.

As is usual, the court did not give its reasons for declining to hear the case.

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said the Liberal government is pleased with the Supreme Court's decision.

"We remain determined to deny safe haven in Canada to war criminals and persons believed to have committed or been complicit in war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide," he said in a statement.

"While we do not take citizenship revocation lightly, we recognize that it is necessary in cases of fraud, false representation or where the individual knowingly concealed material circumstances."

A spokesperson for Mendicino's department said that the Supreme Court decision means Oberlander's legal avenues to contest Canada's decision to revoke his citizenship "are closed."

A statement from Oberlander's family said today's decision is a "departure" from the judicial protection the family has received in past against "government abuse."

Oberlander survived the Ukrainian famine and genocide of 1932-33, which Canada recognizes as a genocide committed by the Soviet regime, the statement said.

And because Oberlander was forcibly conscripted under a threat of death at age 17, the statement added, he was a child soldier according to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

"Mr. Oberlander immigrated to Canada after years of hardship to make a life for his family. Now, Mr. Oberlander has been unjustly persecuted for 24 years by the Government of Canada. Mr. Oberlander has never been charged with any crime. The Government of Canada has never produced a shred of evidence against Mr. Oberlander. No such evidence exists because he has never directly or indirectly contributed to any crime," the statement reads.

'Still innocent,' family says

"Mr. Oberlander was innocent on the day this case began in 1995, and he is still innocent 24 years later. Mr. Oberlander is an upstanding member of our community and should live his remaining years in peace in Canada."

Born in 1924 in Ukraine, Oberlander became a German citizen during the Second World War and applied with his wife to enter Canada in 1952. He was admitted as a permanent resident two years later and obtained Canadian citizenship in 1960.

As of that date, he no longer had German citizenship. He is not a Ukrainian citizen either, according to his lawyer.

Bernie Farber is a former CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress who worked on Nazi cases and is himself the son of a Holocaust survivor. He said the fact that Oberlander has grown old in Canada should not be a "prize" to allow him to escape responsibility.

"We ought not to think of those like Oberlander, who enabled the Nazi machinery of genocide, as they are today — elderly, sickly and near death," he said. "We must remember them as they were 75 years ago: young, healthy brutes who willingly and continually terrorized innocent children, babies, men and women. They are not deserving of our sympathy."

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) said it cannot comment on specific cases, citing privacy laws.

As for deportation, CBSA spokesperson Rebecca Purdy said the agency places the highest priority on removal cases involving national security, organized crime, crimes against humanity and failed refugee claims.

Travel documents needed for deportation

Once an individual has exhausted all legal appeals, she said, they are expected to leave or be removed. Removal depends in part on foreign governments issuing travel documents.

"This will hopefully bring to a conclusion the final chapter of Canada's sad history of neglect on the matter of Nazi enablers who illegally gained entry to this country and received the gift of Canadian citizenship," Farber said. 

"Helmut Oberlander is the last Nazi standing in this country. This is not a judicial or governmental success. This is justice that took a detour, lost its way and found a road back. That is all it is. We have little here of which to be proud."

Oberlander's lawyer, Ronald Poulton, said his client is the victim of a "gross miscarriage of justice." He said the law favours his client's case.

"It's really a sad day for the rule of law," he said.

Poulton said deporting Oberlander would be "incredibly cruel," noting his youth when he was recruited by the Nazis and the fact that he never had a position as a guard or commander.

Oberlander has poor vision and hearing and hasn't held German citizenship since 1960, he said.

Shimon Koffler, president and CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said Oberlander served in a Nazi "death squad" and lied about his past to fraudulently gain his Canadian citizenship.

"For 24 years, Oberlander has cynically abused Canada's justice system to avoid prosecution in Germany. Anyone who cares about justice and human rights should join together in calling on the Government of Canada to immediately initiate the deportation process. Justice delayed is justice denied," he said in a statement.

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