When I met Irwin Cotler, in 1987, he was a law professor and spokesman
for the Canadian Jewish Congress, an aficionado of the fable about
“thousands” of Nazis creeping into Canada after the Second World War,
with Ottawa’s collusion. In July 1981 he had guessed there were “at
least 100.” By spring 1983 they had multiplied to “maybe 1,000.”
Others would claim over 6,000 such villains were hiding in our midst.
No credible evidence ever confirmed there were any Nazis here. Mr.
Cotler is a lawyer. He knows that. He probably also recalls,
although he won’t likely relish a reminder, that the Commission of
Inquiry on War Criminals, headed by the late Mr. Justice Jules
Deschenes, caustically noted how proponents of such allegations,
including the Congress, B’Nai Brith and the Simon Wiesenthal Center,
spread “grossly exaggerated figures…no less than a 400% over-estimate.”
Many an anonymous vigilante also stoked the inquisition. An elderly
woman was scrutated because she had two black dogs and behaved
“curiously” when asked where she got the European furniture she
sold for a living. Her husband was also a suspect. Our “Nazi hunters”
apparently failed to observe he was dead, had been since 1977.
As Canada’s newest Minister of Justice, Mr. Cotler should not behave
as if he is still advocating for one or another Jewish-Canadian group.
One might even expect him to try to forget past dalliances with wannabe
witch finders. Recently, however, Minister Cotler declared that “numerous
obstacles” had left his department with a "still uncompleted agenda,”
meaning he intends to go after “Nazis,” yet again.
When serious evidence is tabled against any individual, regardless
of when or where an atrocity occurred, the accused must stand trial.
Canada should not become a haven for war criminals. All agree. Yet
Ottawa’s men were so flummoxed by their failure to win even a single
“Nazi” case in a criminal court, which happens when hearsay is
confused with history, that, in 1993, they switched to denaturalization
and deportation hearings. Those summoned before such tribunals have
faint hope. In one case a judge found a man was not a Nazi, had not
participated in war crimes and had been forced into guard duty in
wartime Ukraine. But no acquittal resulted. Prosecutors insisted
that all prospective immigrants had been screened rigorously, even in
chaotic postwar Europe. So this man had “obviously” lied about what
he did in the war, securing citizenship falsely. For that he should
be booted out. That this citizen swore he was never so questioned
was dismissed. That relevant archives were destroyed, decades ago,
by our government, was ignored. In “Nazi” cases the fundamental
principle - that you are innocent until proven guilty - is always
waylaid. If you a branded a “Nazi” you must prove your innocence.
After decades of repetition, the public has swallowed the red herring
about Nazis in our midst. Many probably also believe immigration
procedures have been tightened. But, in May 2002, The Montreal Gazette
published a story about a Red Army veteran who also served in a SMERSH
punitive battalion. As executioners shot deserters, and anyone else
deemed an enemy of Stalin’s regime, she would jump into their open
graves, confirming all occupants were dead. This matron moved from
Moscow to Montreal, only a few years ago. No Canadian official ever
asked her what she had done in the war. Is she a scoundrel? Not for
me to judge. Suffice that her story is in the public domain (see “A
war crime is a war crime,” 2 July 2002, The Montreal Gazette.)
What makes the above tale especially intriguing is that, on 15 September
2000, Terry M. Beitner, of the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes
Section, confirmed “security officials did screen applicants for membership
in communist organizations.” In other words Canada did not want Nazis or
Communists. So how did we get a SMERSH alumnus? As her file won’t have
been destroyed, yet, those details can be uncovered. More alarming is how
far from unique she is. One Deschenes Commission informant, who snitched
out several hundred citizens, himself saw wartime service in the notorious
Jewish Ghetto Police that collaborated with the Nazis. Later he became a
Red partisan and a NKVD lieutenant. Presumably not wanting to confuse our
ever-vigilant immigration officials, he simplified his past when immigrating,
in 1949. He was just a “chauffeur.” This old campaigner offered a more
boastful account of his exploits in his 1981 book, but no one in the
Department of Justice apparently reads autobiographical confessions. I
picked up my copy at the Hadassah bazaar, here in Kingston.
Now according to Mr. Beitner a person is “complicit” in war crimes if
contributed “directly or indirectly” or were “a member of an organization…
carrying out atrocities, such as executing civilians.” Soviet secret
policemen did. Some now collect their pensions in Canada. How many?
“At least 100.” “Maybe 1,000.” Who knows? But even one is too many. So,
in July 2002, Canada’s Ukrainian community called for an official inquiry,
a clarion ignored. The government has since claimed no such requests were
ever received. As the writer, Marsha Skrypuch, addressed Mr. Beitner on
this very point in September 2002, which he acknowledged, whence the
amnesia? Were Communist collaborators allowed in with Ottawa’s OK, perhaps
while false alarms over Nazi boogiemen distracted attention? Preposterous?
No more than Mr. Cotler’s conspiracy theories about how Nazis got in,
hard to find though they continue to be.
Mr. Cotler may already be applying Solomonic wisdom to these matters.
Soon after my Montreal Gazette article appeared, his constituency office
called for a copy, dutifully despatched. Twice since I solicited his learned
response, without satisfaction. Perhaps he was too busy with his Mount Royal
constituents, like that collaborator-cop turned chauffeur and self-published
author. Now, however, Mr. Cotler is in Cabinet, sworn to serve all Canadians,
including victims of Communism.
Today Canada remembers one such martyr. Raoul Wallenberg was a saviour
of Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust. Kidnapped in Budapest at the war’s
end he was executed in Moscow sometime later, likely by SMERSH. Thanks to
Mr. Cotler and friends, this righteous gentile became Canada’s first
honourary citizen, in 1985. Well deserved.
Such a hallowed day seems perfect for reaching an accord. If Minister
Cotler will instruct his War Crimes Unit to immediately apply denaturalization
and deportation procedures to those Canadians who have admitted serving Stalin
then opposition to such hearings will mute. Let’s do this for Raoul. Those
complicit in his murder should not be Irwin Cotler’s neighbours, nor yours,