Politics trumped legal advice in decision not to revoke citizenship of Nazi

B’nai Brith Canada and several other Canadian Jewish organizations welcomed the release of the additional pages from the Rodal report Thursday.

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OTTAWA — Newly declassified pages from a 40-year-old report on Canada’s handling of Nazi war criminals suggest both the author and Canadian bureaucrats felt politics, and not legal arguments, were driving decisions around a man convicted of Nazi war crimes in the Soviet Union.

The 1967 decision not to extradite the man or revoke his citizenship was based heavily on advice from former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, who was justice minister at the time.

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The then-minister of external affairs asked Trudeau for advice on whether he should attempt to revoke the citizenship of a man known in the documents only as “Subject F.”

Until this week, that advice had been deleted from publicly available versions of historian Alti Rodal’s report, written to help inform the work of the 1985 Commission of Inquiry on War Criminals in Canada.

The current federal government, under pressure from Canadian Jewish groups, released 15 additional pages from that report Thursday.

B’nai Brith Canada and other organizations have lobbied for the full report to be released for several decades.

The request took on new life last fall after parliamentarians inadvertently applauded a man in the House of Commons who was later identified as having fought for a Nazi unit in Ukraine.

The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center and B’nai Brith both welcomed the newly released pages.

“The report provides insight into Canada’s shameful history of admitting many former Nazis and their collaborators to the country, almost all of whom lived out their lives in Canada undisturbed, without ever having to face justice,” the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center said in a statement Friday.

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“For decades, Canada’s Jewish community and others have called for the release of this information to bring to light how this was allowed to happen.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the decision to release the additional documents aimed to balance the public interest with privacy.

“I think people understand that this is both an important part of the historical record, but also one that has implications around privacy, around community,” he said at a news conference Friday.

The pages show that when his father, Pierre Trudeau, was asked in 1967 for his opinion on whether Canada should seek to revoke Subject F’s citizenship, he said Canada should not.

First, Pierre Trudeau said, there was no evidence that the citizenship court that handled Subject F’s application ever asked about the crimes, nor was there evidence that he knowingly concealed that information.

A few months later, when he was asked to review the decision, Trudeau held to his earlier position, saying nothing in the Citizenship Act even required Subject F to confess the deeds.

“The applicant’s obligation is to satisfy the court that he is of good character,” said Trudeau. “He is not required to satisfy the court that he, at no time in his past, committed an opprobrious act.”

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Rodal called that logic “highly abstract and contrived,” given that what Subject F was accused of involved direct participation in the deaths of thousands.

Subject F, a naturalized Canadian who immigrated from Latvia, was convicted in absentia by the Soviet Union in 1965, in a case that identified him as the “captain of a firing squad which murdered 5,128 Jews” in Latvia during the Second World War.

Pierre Trudeau went on to say that while he appreciated the concern for anxieties of Jewish Canadians about inaction on war criminals in Canada, “it appears to me, on the other hand that it would be most ill-advised for the government to undertake this venture.”

He said publicly accusing a Canadian citizen convicted in absentia in Russia would strike fear into the heart of any naturalized Canadian — that something they did in their past could now be a reason for the government to revoke their citizenship.

Following Trudeau’s advice, the government decided there was nothing it could do regarding the allegations against Subject F.

Not long after, lawyers at the external affairs department wrote a memo expressing displeasure with the decision and wanted it reviewed again, because it was not being made for legal reasons but rather political ones.

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“In purely legal terms, it is arguable that the government is free to commence revocation proceedings under the Citizenship Act, notwithstanding the Attorney General’s opinion,” they wrote.

“It appears to us that the government’s decision not to do so is a matter of policy rather than law.”

The unredacted pages also show that the department of external affairs — now known as Global Affairs Canada — believed requests from Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union to extradite four accused or convicted war criminals were political in nature and designed to embarrass Canada.

However, the same memo said the four people involved were very likely “guilty of having committed atrocities.”

Subject F, the memo said, stood out for having been “an ardent Nazi lackey, not only co-operating actively with the occupying German forces but actually serving their Jewish and Gypsy extermination squads.”

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