OTTAWA (Jun. 24)
Justice Minister Ramon Hnatyshyn introduced sweeping legislation in the House of Commons Tuesday to amend the Criminal Code to allow suspected Nazi war criminals to be tried in Canada for crimes committed outside Canadian territory.
The legislation, which the Minister termed “historic,” would also amend the Immigration Act and the Citizenship Act to bar suspected war criminals from entry into Canada and to deny citizenship to suspects, even if they have not been convicted.
Hnatyshyn said he hoped his measures would be enacted into law before Parliament recesses for the summer next Tuesday. It has the strong support of two opposition leaders, former Solicitor General Robert Kaplan of the Liberal Party and Svend Robinson of the New Democrats. They pledged to do everything they can to convince their colleagues to back it. Major Jewish organizations which have been lobbying for such legislation for more than a decade hailed the measure. Representatives of the Canadian Jewish Congress, the League for Human Rights of B’nai B’rith Canada and the North American Jewish Students Network stressed the importance of its swift passage so that prosecutions can be initiated before any more war criminals and witnesses die of old age.
Hnatyshyn called the bill “a generic war crimes law” because, he said, “it deals with war crimes wherever they were committed without reference to any particular set of events.” It is based on the premise that these acts would have seemed criminal had they been committed in Canada, he explained.
The legislation will clear the way for the prosecution of as many as 20 suspected war criminals identified in the report submitted to the government by the Deschenes Commission last December as still alive and living in Canada. The Commission, headed by Quebec Superior Court Justice Jules Deschenes also recommended that the government prosecute 218 other cases.
A special team of eight Justice Ministry lawyers and three officers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police has been set up to gather evidence. Hnatyshyn said, however, that he had “no idea” when the first prosecutions would begin. “It is a priority for us,” he said.
The Immigration Act will be amended so that “in the future, persons who are reasonably believed to have committed war crimes or crimes against humanity” will not be admitted into Canada or may be ordered deported if found here.
Immigration Minister Benoit Bouchard said he would decide to which country they will be deported. However, he said, to apply deportation to all persons “in the past” would have raised the problem of what to do with persons already in Canada. Consequently, the government decided earlier this year it would try suspected Nazi war criminals in Canada rather than send them to the Soviet Union, Europe or Israel.
But “without the amendment to the Criminal Code, there are cases under consideration that could not be prosecuted in Canada because the criminal code (as it stands) only applies to offenses committed on our territory,” Hnatyshyn said. “We want to get prosecutions where prosecutions are possible and a proper and complete investigation of all remaining files in addition,” the Justice Minister told the House of Commons.
The amendment to the Immigration Act would ban Canadian citizens under investigation elsewhere from trying to return to Canada to avoid trial for war crimes in another country.
Asked if the blanket ban on the admission of suspected war criminals would extend to President Kurt Waldheim of Austria, Immigration Minister Bouchard said: “That’s a very delicate subject. Was this person effectively recognized as having committed war crimes?”
The legislation also would deny Canadian citizenship to people “under investigation” for war crimes or crimes against humanity. Secretary of State David Crombie said citizenship would be denied to persons only suspected, not convicted, “to make sure that no one will abuse the spirit of the act” by becoming a Canadian citizen while under investigation.
Hnatyshyn said he did not know how many, if any, of the war crimes suspects identified in the Deschenes report have left Canada since the report was submitted seven months ago.