(Ottawa) Newly declassified pages from a 40-year-old report on Canada’s handling of Nazi war criminals suggest political considerations played a key role in the 1967 decision not to strip his Canadian citizenship a man who was nevertheless convicted of war crimes in the Soviet Union.
The decision in 1967 not to extradite the man or revoke his citizenship was based largely on the advice of former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who was then Minister of Justice and Attorney General.
The external affairs minister at the time had sought advice from Mr. Trudeau on whether he should attempt to revoke the citizenship of a man known in documents only as “Subject F.”
Until this week, Mr. Trudeau’s opinions had been removed from publicly available versions of the report by historian Alti Rodal, written for the work of the Commission of Inquiry into War Criminals in 1985.
The current federal government, under pressure from Canadian Jewish organizations, released 15 additional pages of this report on Thursday. B’nai Brith Canada and other organizations have pushed for decades for the full report to be released.
The demand took on new momentum last fall when parliamentarians inadvertently applauded a man in the House of Commons who was later identified as having fought for a Nazi unit in Ukraine.
Both the Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and B’nai Brith welcomed the new pages.
“The report provides insight into Canada’s shameful history of admitting into the country numerous former Nazis and their collaborators, almost all of whom lived out their lives in Canada unmolested, without ever having to face justice “, the organization Friends of the Simon-Wiesenthal Center said in a press release on Friday.
“For decades, the Canadian Jewish community and others have called for this information to be released to shed light on how this could have happened. »
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the decision to release the additional documents was intended to balance the public interest and privacy. “I think people understand that this is both an important part of the historical record, but also a part that has implications for privacy and for the community,” he said. said Friday during a press conference.
The report was first published, in heavily redacted form, in 1987, thanks to the Access to Information Act. More details were released last summer following B’nai Brith Canada’s new access request.
This new, almost complete version of the Rodal report makes public 15 pages which were previously “classified”, explained Thursday the director of communications for the federal Minister of Immigration, Aïssatou Diop.
“Abstract and artificial” logic
The pages show that when Pierre Elliott Trudeau was asked in 1967 for his opinion on whether Canada should seek to revoke “Subject F’s” citizenship, he responded that Canada should not do so. .
First, Mr. Trudeau said, there was no evidence that the citizenship court that handled his application ever asked questions about the crimes, nor any evidence that he knowingly withheld that information.
A few months later, when asked to review the decision, Minister Trudeau maintained his previous position, asserting that nothing in the Citizenship Act even required “Subject F” to confess to his actions.
“The applicant’s obligation is to convince the court that he has good morals,” declared Mr. Trudeau. “He is not required to satisfy the court that he has not, at any time in his past, committed any wrongdoing. »
Mr. Rodal called this logic “highly abstract and artificial,” given that what “Subject F” was accused of involved direct participation in the deaths of thousands of people.
“Subject F,” a naturalized Canadian immigrant from Latvia, was convicted in absentia by the Soviet Union in 1965 in a case that identified him as the “captain of a firing squad that murdered 5,128 Jews » in Latvia during the Second World War.
Pierre Trudeau went on to say that while he understood Jewish Canadians’ concern about inaction against war criminals in Canada, “it seems to me, on the other hand, that it would be very ill-advised for the government to undertake this risky undertaking.”
He argued that publicly accusing a Canadian citizen convicted in absentia in Russia would scare any naturalized Canadian – that something he did in his past could now be grounds for the government to revoke his citizenship.
Following the advice of Attorney General Trudeau, the government ultimately decided it could do nothing about the allegations against “Subject F.”
Shortly afterwards, lawyers from the Ministry of External Affairs wrote a memo expressing their dissatisfaction with the decision and wanting it to be reconsidered, as it was not made for legal but rather political reasons.
“In purely legal terms, it can be argued that the government is free to initiate revocation proceedings under the Citizenship Act, despite the advice of the Attorney General,” they wrote. It seems to us that the government’s decision not to do so is a matter of policy rather than law. »
The unredacted pages also show that the Department of External Affairs – now known as Global Affairs Canada – believed that requests from Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union to extradite four accused or convicted war criminals were political nature and intended to embarrass Canada.
However, the same memo states that the four people involved were most likely “guilty of committing atrocities.”
“Subject F,” according to the memo, was distinguished by the fact that he was “an ardent lackey of the Nazis, not only actively cooperating with the German occupation forces, but actually serving their extermination squads of Jews and of Gypsies”.