TORONTO (Feb. 5)
Canadian Jewish groups have expressed shock and dismay over the dismissal of charges against suspected war criminal Stephen Reistetter, accused of deporting 3,000 Jews to death camps in his native Czechoslovakia in 1942.
The state charged he was a member of the fascist para-military Hlinka Guard in the Sardejov district of what was then the Nazi puppet state of Slovakia.
Judge J.B. White of the Ontario Supreme Court withdrew charges against the 76-year-old defendant after the prosecution decided not to proceed with the case.
Justice Department attorney Gilles Renaud said there was not enough evidence to prove Reistetter guilty. Elderly witnesses the prosecution planned to call had either died or were too ill to testify, Renaud explained.
That prompted David Matas, senior legal counsel of B’nai Brith Canada, to remark, “This case illustrates that the wheels of justice must turn more quickly. There is a biological clock ticking, and as time passes, opportunities are lost.”
“The government of Canada must intensify efforts to bring forward new cases against alleged Nazi war criminals,” he said. “This case must not be seen as a roadblock to further prosecutions.”
Les Scheininger, president of the Canadian Jewish Congress, urged the government “to pursue this matter with increased vigor. We knew this process would not be easy, but we still continue to believe in its importance.”
Reistetter, who came to Canada in 1948 and worked for General Motors until his retirement 10 years ago, was the third person charged under legislation passed in 1987 enabling Canadian courts to try alleged war criminals for offenses committed on foreign soil.
The first case tried under the statute ended last May with the acquittal of Imre Finta, a resident of Hamilton, Ontario, who had been charged with atrocities in his native Hungary. Still pending is the case of Michael Pawlowski, 72, charged with the deaths of Soviet Jews and Poles in 1942.
The Canadian Justice Department said it is actively investigating 45 cases under the new law. But Justice Minister Robert Kaplan criticized the record so far. “It’s just not good enough. It falls well short of the claims of action they were promising,” he said.