Holtzman Rips Canada’s War Crimes Law for Not Seeking Nazis’ Deportation
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Holtzman Rips Canada’s War Crimes Law for Not Seeking Nazis’ Deportation

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A leader in the effort to deport Nazi war criminals from the United States was critical this week of Canada’s new war crimes law for seeking to prosecute suspected war criminals rather than deport them and then for not establishing a national authority to prosecute them.

“In choosing not to deport, but instead to prosecute, Canada may simply compound the original wrong (to allow war criminals to find haven within its borders),” said Kings County (Brooklyn, N.Y.) District Attorney Elizabeth Holtzman.

She appraised Canada’s new war crimes law during an international human rights conference, “Nuremberg 40 Years Later: The Struggle Against Injustice in Our Time,” that opened Tuesday at the McGill University Law School here.

As a U.S. representative (D-N.Y) in the 1970s, Holtzman sponsored legislation that established the Office of Special Investigation (OSI) of the U.S. Department of Justice, which has spurred the deportation of 19 Nazi war criminals from the United States.

The Canadian law came into effect when it received royal assent on Sept. 16. It allows the prosecution in Canadian courts of suspected Nazi war criminals living in Canada, even if their crimes were committed elsewhere.

“In cases where there is enough evidence for extradition or deportation,” she said, “but not enough to warrant prosecution, the ‘Canadian solution’ policy would preclude deportation and the Nazi war criminals would remain in Canada.”

She contended that the law is based on an incorrect assumption that “Canada’s system of justice is better than that, say, in France, Holland, or West Germany.”

The legislation stemmed from the recommendations of a commission headed by Quebec Superior Court Justice Jules Deschenes, after nearly two years of investigation into Nazi war criminals who found haven in Canada, many eventually becoming Canadian citizens.

Deschenes came up with a list of 20 definite war crimes suspects and 200 probable suspects, all of whom could face criminal prosecution, Canadian Justice Minister Ray Hnatyshyn, who played a major role in gaining parliamentary assent to Deschenes’ recommendations, told the conference that all of the suspects are under continuing investigation.


Holtzman contrasted the Canadian approach to that of OSI, which tracks down war criminals in the United States and then seeks through the courts to strip their citizenship and deport them.

She regretted that the Deschenes commission had opposed the creation of a similar body. “I urge your government to create a Canadian OSI,” she said.

“The ability to undertake effective investigations and measures against Nazi war criminals requires the development of substantial historical and investigative expertise,” she explained.

“Such expertise can be built up best by having a core of people who deal with these cases, learn the history and share the knowledge acquired by others.”

The American prosecutor also took the Deschenes report to task for including “no specific recommendations on seeking evidence from countries in Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union or Israel.”

But Hnatyshyn announced Wednesday that Canada has in fact begun negotiations with the Soviet Union and the governments of Poland, Romania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, West Germany and Israel to allow Canadian legal teams to search for evidence in those countries on the suspects under investigation.

The justice minister dismissed charges that evidence from the Soviet Union and Eastern bloc countries would be automatically tainted.


Nevertheless, Deschenes, a participant in the conference, said “I am impatient with the slow pace of procedures since my report was filed last December.”

Another participant, David Matas, legal counsel to the B’nai B’rith League of Human Rights during the Deschenes inquiry, said he didn’t think the government had any ulterior motive for moving slowly. “I don’t think it is badly intended as much as badly organized,” he said.

The Ottawa Citizen newspaper carried an interview Wednesday in which Pierre Elliott Trudeau, prime minister of Canada from 1968-79 and 1980-84, admitted that the Liberal government he headed had not done enough about war criminals living in Canada.

He explained that there were “other priorities” and “even Israel has limits in its pursuit” of Nazi war criminals.

Other participants in the conference included Nobel peace laureate Elie Wiesel; French lawyer and Nazi-hunter Serge Klarsfeld; Stephan Lewis, Canadian ambassador to the United Nations; and Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz.

Also Ram Jethmalani, a lawyer and former member of the Indian Parliament; Arthur Chaskelson, South African counsel for imprisoned civil rights leader Nelson Mandela; Gotsu Wolbe, a former minister in the Ethiopian government; and Chilean human rights activist Carmen Quintana.

Prof. Irwin Cotler of McGill University Law Faculty, who has worked for years on the issue of justice for Nazi war criminals, was the main organizer of the conference.

Wiesel gave the opening address on the occasion of the inauguration of the Raoul Wallenberg Lectureship in Human Rights at McGill, named for the Swedish diplomat who saved the lives of thousands of Jews in Hungary during the closing months of World War II, only to be arrested by the Soviet army in 1945. He has not been heard from since.

Wiesel characterized the Nuremberg trial of top Nazi war criminals as “the triumph of memory. We must all remember what happened, otherwise we lose our minds,” he said.

He added that “those who dare say today that the Holocaust did not exist should be put to shame and treated as outcasts.”

Wiesel, himself a Buchenwald survivor, also said, “What we must realize from Nuremberg is that neutrality is wrong. There can be no such thing as neutrality against evil.”

He said that had the Nazi victims known when they were liberated that Allied leaders had been aware of the victims’ fate during the war, “we could have committed suicide out of despair.”

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