Nazi War Criminals in Canada

CBC News | May 12, 2011

Over the last 20 years, the successful legal actions against Nazi war criminals in Canada have been a result of extradition, not prosecution.

Unlike the recent case of John Demjanjukwho was sentenced to five years by a German court for allegedly working at a Nazi death camp in Poland — the Canadian government tries to revoke citizenship and send the accused to stand trial in the country in which the crimes were alleged to have taken place.

This is largely a result of several failed prosecutions that took place during the 1990s.

War Crimes Program

The identification and prosecution of war criminals within Canada, including those from the Second World War, is under the purview of the War Crimes Program. It is a partnership between four federal agencies: the RCMP, the Department of Justice, Citizenship and Immigration Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency.

Though the organization can initiate prosecution under the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act, its primary mandate is to deny safe haven to those in Canada who are alleged to have committed war crimes. It does this by either denying entry to suspected war criminals or by revoking citizenship and sending the accused to another country to stand trial.

This has been the Canadian government's primary course of action since 1994, when it abandoned prosecution under the Criminal Code following several acquittals of former Nazis, including Stephen Reistetter and Imre Finta.

According to the most recent report issued by the War Crimes Program, which covers the period between 2007 and 2008, there were relatively few active cases dealing with the Second World War. There were just 17 active cases still under investigation, compared to 1,548 closed files.

In the now-defunct March 2011 budget — which the newly elected Conservatives have promised to uphold — the organization was to receive $8.4 million in funding.

History of legal action

One of the earliest cases brought against a Nazi war criminal in Canada was that of Helmut Rauca, a master sergeant who served in Hitler's SS during the Second World War. He came to Canada in 1950 and was granted citizenship in 1956. In 1961, West Germany issued an arrest warrant for Rauca, alleging he murdered around 11,500 Jews, and in 1972, asked the RCMP to help locate him.

First war criminal tried by Canadian authorities

German SS Maj.-Gen. Kurt Meyer was accused of "direct or indirect responsibility" in the execution of 48 Canadian prisoners of war and became the first war criminal to be tried by Canadian military authorities.

He was convicted and sentenced to death, but ended up serving nine years in prison, part of it in a New Brunswick penitentiary following a trial in Germany. He died in 1961.

However, the Canadian government could not release his personal information due to privacy laws. In 1982, Robert Kaplan, federal solicitor general at the time, ordered the passport office to divulge Rauca's personal information. In 1982, an Ontario court ruled there was sufficient evidence to commit him to trial in Germany. After a failed appeal, he was extradited to West Germany, but died on Oct. 29, 1983 while awaiting trial.

Following the Rauca case, the government of Canada established the Commission of Inquiry on War Criminals under Justice Jules Deschênes in 1985. Its final report recommended changes to the Criminal Code to allow for prosecution in Canada. In March 1987, the federal government announced that those alleged to have been involved in the commission of war crimes or crimes against humanity would be subject to criminal prosecution or revocation of citizenship and deportation.

Failed attempts at prosecution

The first person to be tried — unsuccessfully — in Canada as a war criminal was Imre Finta, who served as a Hungarian police officer during the Second World War. In December 1987, he was charged with manslaughter, kidnapping, unlawful confinement and robbery for assisting the Nazis in the deportation of Jews from Hungary. He was acquitted on May 25, 1990, but the government appealed.

During the next two years, the Crown also dropped charges against two other suspected war criminals — Stephen Reisetter and Michael Pawlowski — due to a lack of evidence. In 1994, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld Finta's acquittal and ruled that the section of the Criminal Code used to prosecute him was unconstitutional.

The government accordingly announced that instead of trying to prosecute Nazi war criminals under the Criminal Code, Ottawa would attempt to revoke citizenship and deport people who lied about their past in order to gain entry to Canada.

Imre Finta died in Toronto in December 2003.

Recent developments

Michael Seifert, an SS prison guard during World War II, was extradiated to Italy. Verony Military Prosecutor's Office/Associated Press

Since 1994, there have some successful attempts to extradite Nazi war criminals to stand trial in other country, including the case of Michael Seifert. The former Nazi SS prison guard had entered Canada in the early 1950s. He was found guilty of murder by a military tribunal in Verona, Italy in 2000. The Canadian government surrendered Seifert to Italian authorities on Feb. 15, 2008. He died in prison in 2010.

Modern prosecution

On Oct 29, 2009, Désiré Munyaneza was found guilty of committing war crimes by a Canadian court for his role in the Rwandan genocide. He had been in Canada since 1997. He was arrested in October 2005 at his Toronto home, where he had been living with his wife and children. Authorities were alerted to his presence by Rwandan-Canadians who had seen him in their midst. Munyaneza was the first person to be convicted under Canada's Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act.

He was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years — the harshest sentence allowed.

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