Ontario man fighting deportation over his role in Nazi death squad gets another reprieve from court
Monday, Feb. 22, 2016
A 92-year-old Ontario man who has been fighting deportation for 20 years over his link to a Nazi killing unit has won another reprieve.
Ottawa began legal proceedings to strip Helmut Oberlander, a retired Waterloo developer, of his citizenship in 1995, arguing he hid or lied about his service as an interpreter with a Nazi death squad during the Second World War.
But Oberlander has successfully fended off deportation through multiple appeals. Last week, the Federal Court of Appeal sent his case back to Ottawa for reconsideration over questions about the level of his complicity in war crimes.
In a statement Monday, Shimon Koffler Fogel, head of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said the man was “contriving to abuse the judicial system to avoid responsibility.”
“Oberlander was a member of one of the most savage Nazi killing units. … That he clearly lied about his wartime past to fraudulently gain entry into this country is not in question — nor the legal consequences of falsification of immigration documents,” the statement said.
“He is here illegally and he ought to have his Canadian citizenship revoked.”
The Simon Wiesenthal Centre put Oberlander on its annual list of the Most Wanted Nazi War Criminals for having served in the Nazi death squad, Einstazkommando 10a, which is estimated to have killed 23,000 civilians, mostly Jews.
Ronald Poulton, Oberlander’s lawyer, said in an email Monday his client’s role in the German unit was “limited and forced.”
Oberlander’s daughter, Irene Rooney, has told reporters her father is not a Nazi war criminal and wants his good name restored.
Oberlander, who was born in Ukraine, became a Canadian citizen in 1960. In 1995, when he learned immigration officials were recommending his citizenship be revoked, he asked for an opinion from the Federal Court.
In 2000, a federal judge found Oberlander had obtained his citizenship after falsely representing or knowingly concealing his wartime past, prompting the federal cabinet to revoke his citizenship in 2001.
But the Federal Appeal Court set aside that decision in 2004 and sent it back to cabinet to reconsider, in part because it didn’t weigh Oberlander’s personal interests against the public interest.
Cabinet was unmoved and in 2007 revoked his citizenship again. In 2009, the Federal Appeal Court overturned that decision on the basis of Oberlander’s claim he was forcibly conscripted when he was a young man and was under duress throughout his time with the death squad.
In 2012, cabinet found the defence of duress had not been established and revoked Oberlander’s citizenship a third time. Federal Court Judge James Russell upheld that decision in 2015, noting Oberlander never sought to be relieved of his duties and never expressed remorse for his membership.
But last week, the Federal Appeal Court sent the matter back to Ottawa, once again, on the grounds Russell had erred by failing to take into account a 2013 Supreme Court of Canada ruling in another case that changed the standard for complicity in war crimes.
Oberlander had been found to be complicit in war crimes on the principle of “guilt by association,” his lawyer said. But the Supreme Court overruled that principle as unjust and wrong, creating a new standard that says a person has to have made a significant and knowing contribution to a group’s crime or criminal purpose.
“It is hard to imagine how he could be held accountable now, given his limited and forced role with the unit,” Poulton said.
A Citizenship and Immigration spokeswoman said Monday the government is reviewing the decision and considering its next steps.
Another longtime Canadian resident who had been on the Wiesenthal Centre’s list of wanted Nazi criminals, Vladimir Katriuk, of Quebec, died last year at the age of 93.