On May 24, 2007, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson announced the federal government’s decision to revoke the citizenship of two men who hid their Nazi pasts when they entered Canada.
Helmut Oberlander’s citizenship was initially revoked in 2001 after a court ruled that when Oberlander came to Canada in 1954 he concealed his membership in a Nazi extermination unit (einsatzkommando) in the former Soviet Union. But the Federal Court of Appeal overturned this ruling in 2004 and ordered Cabinet to reconsider. Oberlander’s case dates back to 1995, when the federal government first announced its intention to revoke his citizenship and deport him. His ability to exploit Canada’s immigration laws and the due process of law to avoid deportation led critics to label Oberlander “the poster child” for long-standing deficiencies in the approach adopted by successive Canadian governments to the issue of suspected Nazi war criminals in Canada.
In 2003, a court ruled that Jacob Fast hid his German citizenship when he immigrated to Canada in 1947 and that he had collaborated with a Nazi security police unit in Ukraine that arrested and executed Jews during the Shoah (Holocaust.)
Oberlander and Fast might still stall their deportations by asking the Federal Court to determine if the Cabinet’s revocation of their citizenships was lawful. Nevertheless, the cabinet decision was an important affirmation (however belated) of Canada’s commitment to achieve justice on behalf of the victims of the Holocaust. Moreover, it was a firm statement of Canadian values, and of Canada’s determination to fulfill its obligations to international law, international human rights, and international justice.
The principled position reflected in Justice Minister Rob Nicholson’s assertion that “Canada will not become a safe haven for anyone who has been involved in war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocie,” applies equally to other Nazi-era cases currently before the courts or under Cabinet consideration, as well as to individuals who might have entered Canada despite their suspected involvement in more recent genocides such as Rwanda, Bosnia-Herzegovina, or Darfur.