Trudeau Government Rejected Measures to Bring Nazi War Criminals Living in Canada to Justice

The Liberal-led government of former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau considered–and rejected — a large number of measures proposed to help bring Nazi war criminals living in Canada to justice, it was disclosed this week.

Trudeau’s Cabinet in 1981 ruled out any action after studying a report by a special task force that had examined all the options available to the government. Most were dismissed as unworkable for a variety of reasons.

The only viable option, one pressed for by the Law Reform Commission and Jewish organizations in Canada, was amendment of the Criminal Code by new legislation which would allow Canada to try ex-Nazis and Nazi collaborators for crimes they committed on foreign soil.

But the then Justice Minister, Jean Chretien, was unhappy with the concept of retroactive legislation and told the Canadian Bar Association in 1982 that it made him “nervous.”

A source who sat in on the Cabinet deliberations said such a concept was counter to the rule of law and might create a dangerous precedent which “less than democratic countries” might use, for example, to pass laws against minority groups, including Jews.

The issue was raised a new by the Progressive Conservative government of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney which has set up a one-man commission to investigate suspected Nazi war criminals presently living in Canada and recommend measures to deal with them. The commission, consisting of former Quebec Superior Court Justice Jules Deschenes, is required to submit its report by the end of the year.

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