Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Focus on Issues

August 18, 1987
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The government of Canada introduced measures June 23 to prosecute Nazi war criminals in Canada and to prevent any war criminals from entering the country.

The Minister of Justice, Ray Hnatyshyn, called the proposed amendments to the Criminal Code, the Citizenship Act and the Immigration Act “historic legislation.”

This initiative represented a most significant step in the process which began with the establishment of the Commission of Inquiry on War Criminals in February 1985. After two years of hearings and investigations, Chief Justice Jules Deschenes, the chairman of the inquiry, submitted his report to Parliament on December 30, 1986.When the government disclosed the report and its response in Parliament on March 12, the Justice Minister mode a commitment to introduce legislation before the summer recess of Parliament.

Parliament is now taking that recess, but the law enabling Canada to bring Nazi war criminals to justice has not yet been passed. B’nai B’rith Canada was dismayed when on June 30 the legislation was withdrawn until Parliament resumes in the fall, despite the Government’s commitment to enact legislation, and the all party agreement to speed it through the House of Commons.


We remain concerned that 42 years after the war only one Nazi war criminal in Canada has been extradited; not one has been prosecuted, deported or denaturalized.

In light of Canada’s tradition of inaction in dealing with Nazi war criminals, B’nai B’rith Canada’s League for Human Rights praised the government for moving quickly and decisively when the Justice Minister introduced the proposed amendments (Bill C-71).

“We are gratified that the government has given top priority to the problem,” said David Matas, senior legal counsel representing the League at the Commission hearings. “Time is of the essence. It is crucial that the legislation be passed immediately in order to begin the long overdue process of bringing Nazi war criminals to justice. We must see that prosecutions are initiated quickly, before more criminals and witnesses progress into old age. In the context of 40 years of Canadian inaction, we cannot afford to lose one more day.”

The bill would enable Canada to take action against an estimated 20 suspected Nazi war criminals identified in the Deschenes report as still living in Canada.

“The problem of war criminals should, wherever possible, be dealt with here in Canada, and every case must be resolved in a manner consistent with Canadian standards of law and evidence,” Hnatyshyn said in describing the guiding principle behind the proposed legislation.

In search of the “made in Canada solution,” the Minister proposed amendments to the Criminal Code providing Canadian courts with jurisdiction to prosecute in Canada war crimes and crimes against humanity that were committed outside Canada. To ensure that the law would be retrospective rather than retroactive, only those offenses punishable under Canadian law and international law at the time they were committed could be presecuted. Present rules of evidence and procedure would be employed.

While supporting the proposals and urging their immediate passage, individuals and groups such as Robert Kaplan (Liberal) and the League expressed concern that the amendments may allow some criminals to escape prosecution.

For example, the bill may not cover crimes committed by citizens of countries that were not involved in a war with Canada. The member of the Rumanian Iron Guard who committed war crimes before Rumania entered the war is one such case;the crimes of the “enthusiastic volunteers” of Axis states against their own citizens is another. Representatives of Eastern European communities also objected to the limited jurisdiction stated in the proposed law.

The Criminal Code amendment would permit only the federal Attorney General to initiate proceedings against alleged war criminals due to the international implications of the legislation.

In light of Canada’s 40-year history of inaction on the issue, with the exception of the extradition of Helmut Rauca in 1983, the League urged the government to allow provincial attorneys general to prosecute war criminals along with the federal government.

Amendments to the Immigration Act would ensure that people who are “reasonably believed to have committed war crimes or crimes against humanity would not be admitted into Canada, or may be ordered deported. In practical terms, this law could be invoked in the future to exclude an individual such as Austrian President Kurt Waldheim from entering Canada.

Finally, under the proposed amendments to the Citizenship Act, anyone being investigated for committing war crimes, or crimes against humanity, by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service or the Department of Justice will not be able to acquire or resume Canadian citizenship.

The proposals would not permit Canadian authorities to revoke an individual’s citizenship or to deport people suspected of committing war crimes. They would, however, prohibit Canadian citizens who have been living elsewhere to try to get back into Canada to avoid facing trial for war crimes or crimes against humanity in another country.


As the first organization to receive standing before the Commission and as an organization that has been concerned with the problem of Nazi war criminals for many years, the Leaguefirst and foremost commended the government for moving quickly and decisively to draft and introduce the proposed changes.

Above all else, our team of lawyers urged the government and the opposition parties to pass the bill before the summer recess of Parliament and ensure that Canada ceases to be a haven for Nazi war criminals.

The government intended to present the bill for passage by Parliament on June 30, 1987, the final day of the session before the summer recess. The plan of the government was to have the bill go to committee of the whole, and not to legislative committee, where it could be debated for many months. For that, unanimous consent of all the members present in the House of Commons was necessary.

But MP’s Alex Kindy and Andrew Witer indicated they would oppose committee of the whole and insist on legislative committee. Witer was prepared to consent to committee of the whole provided the government would accept five amendments he proposed.

The five amendments would broaden the scope of those considered war criminals; impose a publication ban on the hearings; enable only the Attorney General to consent to prosecution (not the Deputy Attorney General); allow deportations only to a country with which Canada has an extradition treaty; and bar an immigrant only if he was a war criminal or criminal against humanity (reasonable grounds to believe a person was such a criminal would not suffice).

The Justice Department turned down these recommendations primarily because they could be contrary to the Charter of Rights.

Ironically, the legislation was not passed on June 30 due to lack of time and lack of unanimous consent necessary for an extension. However, when Parliament resumes, be it in the fall or earlier, the Minister of Justice has once again promised to act as quickly as possible to ensure passage of the legislation.

At least a measure of justice can still be granted to the victims of the Holocaust and their families with the passage of the legislation proposed in June.

Recommended from JTA