Test Case of Canada’s War Crimes Law Gets Under Way in Trial of Imre Finta

The trial of Imre Finta, Canada’s first criminal war crimes trial, began in Ontario Supreme Court here Monday, but hopes for a speedy jury selection faded fast when defense attorney Douglas Christie asked the presiding judge to declare a mistrial.

Christie’s delaying tactics have been the hallmark of the proceedings since June’s pre-trial hearings, when Christie entered a barrage of motions aimed at discrediting Canada’s 2-year-old war crimes legislation under which Finta has been charged.

Unlike the country’s two Nazi denaturalization cases — against Helmut Rauca, who was deported to West Germany where he died in prison in 1983 pending trial, and Jacob Luitjens, which ended this spring thought judgment has been reserved — the proceedings against Finta are criminal rather than civil.

They form the test case of the 1987 amendment to the Criminal Code, which allows Canadian courts to try persons accused of crimes on foreign soil.

The amendment was legislated after a judicial investigating commission found evidence that Nazi war criminals were living in Canada.

Finta, a naturalized former restaurant owner in Hamilton, Ontario, was identified by witnesses as a captain in the pro-Nazi Hungarian gendarmerie during World War II, responsible for the deportation of Jews and other Nazi victims.

The eight-point indictment accuses him of the forcible confinement of 8,617 Jews in the city of Szeged, from May 16 to June 30, 1944.

Finta is also accused of kidnapping and unlawfully transporting Jews out of their native Hungary, and of manslaughter in connection with the deaths of deportees in cattle cars.

Christie’s motion for a mistrial in the Finta case is based on technicalities.

The issue arose when Justice Archie Campbell opened the trial by reading a letter from Judge Frank Callaghan explaining that he was withdrawing from the case and transferring it to Campbell.

The reason was Callaghan’s recent elevation to chief justice of Ontario province. Since in his new office he will be meeting frequently with federal Justice Minister Douglas Lewis, who is responsible for the prosecution of Finta, he wanted to avoid the perception of partiality.

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