Why did the Commission go to such great lengths to differentiate between Nazi collaborators and war criminals? Why was the Nuremberg Military Tribunal verdict on SS divisions and other war criminals not considered acceptable by Canada? And why have the suspects - especially those who have already been tried and convicted in absentia by other countries, and persons who have serious, documented accusations filed against them - not been named?
By JOHN FELD, JUDITH MACPHERSON and ABE ROSNER
Reprinted from THE NEW Magazine, June-July 1987
THE QUESTION OF WAR CRIMES cannot be taken lightly. Nor can it be reduced to a matter of past history, a passing phenomenon which came to an end with Hitler. It is a grave problem today, as present and dangerous as ever, and it represents one of the deepest concerns of the people.
Nicaragua, Afghanistan, South Africa, the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent, El Salvador and Guatemala -- these and many others bear daily witness to this truth. Crimes against humanity, of the same character as the Nazi atrocities, occur there constantly, whether the responsibility lies with the US or the Soviet Union, or with the racist and fascist regimes like that of South Africa. So, while people are determined to redress the evils of the past, they are just as preoccupied with halting the present-day crimes, punishing the war criminals and finding a permanent solution.
These were the questions which kept occurring to us while awaiting the report of the Deschenes Commission. Was the Canadian government serious about dealing with the problem of war crimes? It takes very lightly the worldwide activities of the US, its "friend to the south". Once this is done, would it not treat the Nazi crimes in the same way? Would it care about the danger of resurgence of Nazism, in the same or different forms? Did it share the hatred of the people for such crimes, whether past or present, and the concern that the future never witness a recurrence? Or was there some other motive in organizing the Commission? Time would tell.
The Commission reports its findings
THE REPORT of the Deschenes Commission of Inquiry on War Criminals in Canada was released in March. The launching of the inquiry, its public hearings, the interventions and submissions and the release of the final report all aroused considerable interest throughout the country.
The presence in Canada of those who have committed crimes against humanity causes anger and indignation amongst the people. There was a sense of relief that with this inquiry steps would be taken to hunt down these criminals and give them the punishment they deserve. There was a sense created in the mass media that with the Deschenes Commission the federal government had taken a democratic and progressive step -- that an historic wrong was about to be righted. But now that the report has been released, we are left with many unanswered questions and with the nagging feeling that this very serious problem is far from resolved.
Why did it take so long?
THE Deschenes Commission report was established by the government more than two years ago, and its report was released this year. But the Second World War, during which the crimes were committed, ended 40 years earlier. Why did it take so long?
Was it that some new evidence had suddenly been discovered pointing to the presence of war criminals in Canada? No, it can't be that, because right from the immediate post-War period there have been allegations that war criminals, including collaborators with the Nazis, were living in Canada. There have been many reports and charges, some naming names. These have included documents from the countries in which the crimes were committed, with lists of victims, witnesses and other evidence.
The presence of Nazi war criminals in Canada has in fact been widely acknowledged in the past. A number of European governments have tried such individuals in absentia and asked Canada to extradite them. In all but one case -- that of Helmut Rauca in 1983 -- Canada has refused to extradite or respond to the requests. One well-publicized example is that of a British Columbia university professor who was tried and convicted of war crimes by the Netherlands in 1948. Canada did not act on the extradition request, saying the crime was not included in the list of extraditable offences between the two countries. The federal government has refused to reveal all the requests it has received from other governments for the extradition of war criminals.
Did it take so long for the government to set up the inquiry because there was no interest in the country that something should be done? Far from it. For decades there have been incessant demands that those living in Canada who are guilty of war crimes be brought to justice and punished -- either through extradition to the countries where the crimes were committed or in Canada. But no government took any action.
Could it be that the government felt the issue of Nazi war criminals is no longer a burning one since the crimes took place so long ago, that it would be better not to re-open old wounds? That, in fact, is what Ronald Reagan said when he visited Bitburg Cemetery in West Germany in 1985 to lay a wreath on the graves of SS troops. If too many years have passed, the question remains -- why wait for 40 years for the then-new bloody wounds to become old and hidden with thick scars?
Why has no action been taken?
AFTER ALL these years and all the delays, what did justice Jules Deschenes actually conclude?
The commission dismissed accusations against 698 alleged war criminals, and said another 218 cases needed further investigation. It recommended action be taken against 20 persons. The Criminal Code should be amended to allow for trials in Canada of the suspects, it said.
In its findings, the Deschenes Commission drew a distinction between war criminals and wartime collaborators, and from this perspective, it exonerated the members of the Galicia Division, a Ukrainian military group which was organized as part of the German Waffen SS. Many of its members who survived the war emigrated to Canada.
The International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg, which was set up by the Allied powers after the end of the war, named all Waffen SS divisions as criminal organizations which had engaged in war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Why did the Commission go to such great lengths to differentiate between Nazi collaborators and war criminals? Why was the Nuremberg Military Tribunal verdict on SS divisions and other war criminals not considered acceptable by Canadian standards? And why have the suspects -- especially those who have already been tried and convicted in absentia by other countries, and persons who have serious, documented accusations filed against them -- not been named?
The federal government specifically rejected proposals to change extradition treaties to allow for sending war criminals back to the country where they committed their crimes. It is argued that the suspected war criminals could not obtain a fair trial in some of the countries demanding their extradition, because the governments there are not democratic. But is this the real concern? Are all the governments with whom Canada has extradition treaties democratic? The Canadian government recently concluded an extradition treaty with India which provides for extradition of people -- even Canadian citizens -- who are suspected of committing crimes in India or of committing crimes in Canada which might affect India. Why was this treaty concluded, yet similar action is not possible for war criminals? Is there any guarantee that Canadian residents extradited to India will receive a fair trial?
The government adopted the commission's recommendation to change the Criminal Code to allow for war criminals to be tried in Canada. But since the release of the report there has been no action taken. It has been more than five months since the government has had the report in its hands. What is the government waiting for? Are there more pressing matters on the government's agenda? Is the return of capital punishment more urgent, or legislation enabling the American drug monopolies to raise prescription drug prices more pressing?
Parliament can swing into action with lightning speed to pass legislation when it desires, going through all three readings in the House of Commons in a single sitting. This occurred many times when the government of the day ordered striking workers back to their jobs. At other times the government does not even need to go through Parliament to have its way, as with the declaration of the War Measures Act. But on this occasion the government, like its predecessors over the past 40 years, is biding its time. Why?
How did the suspected war criminals get into Canada? Who let them in?
THE COMMISSION acknowledges that there are war criminals in Canada. How did they get into Canada? Who let them in and why? It was part of the commission's mandate to answer these questions and a special document was prepared on this issue as part of the report. This background paper has been labelled "very sensitive" by the justice Minister, who has withheld it from the public.
It goes without saying that the Canadian people never wanted or called for admission of Nazi war criminals. On the contrary, hundreds of thousands of Canadians fought against the Nazis. Many thousands gave their lives in the struggle. Thousands more lost relatives to the Nazi death camps. The Canadian people never asked that Canada should become a refuge for those who committed such inhuman crimes. They have demanded that the criminals be brought to justice.
After the Second World War, Europe was in ruins, people had been thrown from their homes, whole cities had been obliterated. There were refugees streaming across borders and there was great confusion. Was this the reason that the suspected war criminals were able to get into Canada? Was it impossible to separate the victims of aggression from the aggressors in the confusion? Or was it a conscious policy decision on the part of the Canadian government?
Why was the inquiry surrounded by controversy?
NOT EVERYONE was in favour of identifying the suspected war criminals in Canada and bringing them to justice. Among them were some voices in the Ukrainian community in Canada who said that the hunt for Nazi collaborators would inevitably turn into a witch hunt and that the entire Ukrainian community would be labelled as Nazi or pro-Nazi.
But why did they come to this conclusion? Why did they not take the approach that they would welcome any opportunity to identify, root out and punish any traitors to their community, all those who had collaborated with the Nazis in committing heinous crimes? They could have said they would gladly take the lead in ridding their community of such villains in order to enhance the good name of the community in the eyes of their fellow Canadians and the world's people. Instead, their complaints of ill-treatment were widely publicized in the mass media and given credibility. Why?
Are there other war criminals in Canada?
THE MANDATE of the commission was to investigate the presence of alleged Nazi war criminals in Canada. So far we have discussed the host of questions the report itself gives rise to. But there are other closely related questions. Why, for instance, did the mandate not include other war criminals?
We know there are others in Canada, and of a more recent vintage. What about certain of the Vietnamese who were brought into the country following the defeat of the Americans in Vietnam in 1975? The terrible crimes, including genocide, committed by the Americans and their puppet government in South Vietnam are well-known and documented. Could any of them have come to Canada? We know for certain of one such criminal -- the notorious General Dang Van Quang. Denounced on the floor of the Vietnamese National Assembly in 1970 as the "biggest pusher" of heroin in Vietnam, Quang was granted a special Canadian ministerial entry permit by the Trudeau government. Previous publicized cases have indicated that the post-war government encouraged and abetted various individuals to settle in Canada -- a well-known case being that of a French count who was a close collaborator of Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie. Are there others?
Again, the same questions cry out to be answered: Why were they brought here? Was it out of compassion, or were there other reasons? Why is their presence rarely mentioned in the debate about war criminals in Canada? Is anything being done to identify them and hunt them down so that they can be tried and punished?
Will it take another 40 years or more before an inquiry is launched into this matter and nothing else is done while they, like so many before them, remain safe and protected?
Did the Commission provide the answers?
THE COMMISSION is over, but the problems and questions persist. Some of the Nazi war criminals lived out their lives and died natural deaths. Others remain free today. Practically none were punished. And it seems that those who were not punished, together with their well-wishers, have been given a new lease on life since the Commission was established. They are actively rewriting history. They have changed the long-accepted definition of "war criminal". They are going so far as to call for action against those who actually fought the Nazis and their collaborators.
Whatever questions may have been answered, one will definitely remain: Is the government really against the Nazi war criminals? Was the Deschenes Commission established to seek out and punish them at long last? Or was its aim to exonerate their crimes and help them and their like get organized to prepare for new crimes against humanity?
Some may say that to ask such questions is to doubt the integrity of the government and the Commission. Perhaps this is so. But doubting their integrity is not such a terrible thing, when the alternative is to shut one's eyes to the grave dangers posed for the people by, the new form of Nazism which is rising today, the form which goes by the name of "freedom" and "democracy".
We, for our part, will keep asking the questions until answers are found. We will remain vigilant and strive to be ready, so that we can never be caught unawares. When the ashes are piling up around the centres of mass extermination, it is no solace to be able to say that: "We didn't know."
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