Canadian Deschenes Commission Hits Snag in Efforts to Gather Information on War Criminals

The Deschenes Commission has run into another snag in its efforts to gather information behind the Iron Curtain on suspected Nazi war criminals living in Canada.

Yves Fortier, a lawyer for the commission, reported Saturday that an invitation extended by the Soviet Union had to be rejected because the Soviets failed to agree to allow Canadian investigators to interrogate witnesses in accordance with Canadian rules of evidence.

Fortier explained that the commission’s investigators would not go to the Soviet Union and other East European countries unless the ground rules laid down by former Quebec Superior Court Chief Justice Jules Deschenes, who heads the commission, are agreed to by the host countries.

These are a promise to provide commission lawyers with access to original German documents; permit the use of independent interrogators; allow video-taping of all proceedings; and allow the examination of witnesses in accordance with Canadian rules of evidence.

The conditions were formulated to allow the evidence to stand up in Canadian courts, in the event that suspected war criminals are brought to court, free from suspicion that it was fabricated or in any way tainted.

DEMANDS PREVIOUSLY ENDORSED

Alexei Makarov, a Consular official at the Soviet Embassy in Ottawa, said last week that Moscow had endorsed Deschenes’ “main” demands and had invited the commission’s representatives to travel to the Soviet Union any time after June 10. “As far as we are concerned, all the major requests have been complied with,” the Soviet official said, adding, “Although I think the wording is not the same, the essence is.”

Fortier disagreed. “What they have told us is that interrogation would be done within the framework of criminal procedure of the USSR. Canadian lawyers would be given the opportunity to clarify from witnesses, questions of relevant interest. In other words, the examination would be conducted by the Office of the Procurator of the Soviet Union and that is not acceptable,” Fortier said.

SOVIET AGREEMENT IS ESSENTIAL

He noted that “Though the Soviet Union has accepted the essence of all other conditions, the commission will not go there unless its lawyers have the same rein there as they would have in Canadian courts.” He said a letter to that effect was sent to the Procurator in Moscow through diplomatic channels.

However, according to Fortier, the commission would reconsider its response if the Soviets modify their position or advise that they had been misunderstood. The same applies to Poland which has advised the commission that the interrogation of witnesses would be by a Polish judge.

“But very simply, without their agreement to all the conditions, it will be impossible for the commission to consider travelling to examine witnesses within the framework which has been outlined,” Fortier said.

Commission investigators have gathered evidence in West Germany, France, Holland, England and the U.S. to date. The deadline for the commission’s work was to have expired on June 1. It was granted an extension of indeterminate length by the Justice Minister.

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