Canadian Government Revises Parts of Report on War Criminals in Canada to Protect Rights of Persons

The government has revised portions of the Deschenes Commission’s report on Nazi war criminals in Canada in order to protect the privacy and civil rights of persons investigated, Justice Minister Ray Hnatyshyn disclosed to the House of Commons in Ottawa Monday.

He denied vigorously that the report is being purged for political reasons or as a result of pressure from East European ethnic groups which fear they may be branded as Nazi collaborators. Leading Canadian Jewish organizations have decided to withhold comment until the report is made public. According to knowledgeable sources, this will be “soon.”

The only goal is to avoid publicly identifying people and making sure the innocent are protected, Hnatyshyn said. He said parts of the report will have to be reprinted but refused to say when it will be presented to the House of Commons. He also would not speculate on when the government will respond to any recommendations for action against suspected war criminals living in Canada.

The Commission, headed by Quebec Superior Court Justice Jules Deschenes spent 22 months investigating and compiling its report which fills 1,200 pages and was presented to the government of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney last December 30.

ELEMENTS OF THE REPORT

It is divided into two sections, a public portion which contains no names but enumerates case studies, and a private section which names persons against whom there may be grounds for action. The Commission examined about 30 cases in detail and came up with approximately 12 suspects against whom there is serious evidence.

During its nearly two years of investigation, the Commission did not have an opportunity to gather evidence in Eastern European countries.

Government sources reportedly fear that the public portion of the report, although it names no one, might offer clues to the identity of individuals investigated by mentioning such facts as their port of entry into Canada, their place of residence or their national origin. Ukrainian and Baltic groups in Canada have been especially sensitive to any suggestion of collective guilt for war crimes.

Several conservative back-benchers in Parliament support those groups, arguing against identifying suspects by nationality. The Minister of Justice rejected any suggestions that the government was re-writing the report because of such lobbying.

He did not say who did the actual revisions but said they were handled in consultation with Judge Deschenes who will comment on the matter when the report is made public.

PROPOSAL TO AMEND THE CRIMINAL CODE

Deschenes is believed to have recommended that the Criminal Code be amended to permit trials in Canada for war criminals whose crimes were committed elsewhere. That proposal was supported by all sides at public hearings by the Commission, despite the fact that the previous Liberal government expressed concern that such legislation might violate civil liberties by creating retroactive crimes.

The Canadian Jewish Congress and the League for Human Rights of B’nai B’rith have suggested other possibilities, including extradition for trial in West Germany or Israel, or simply stripping suspected war criminals of their Canadian citizenship and deporting them.

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