November 5, 2002
Toronto Sun
By Peter Worthington
Stay of execution

The government of Canada has finally seen the light. It has introduced legislation (Bill C-18) that gives naturalized Canadians the right to appeal if their citizenship is revoked and they are ordered deported.

About time

The main beneficiaries are aging Ukrainians whom the immigration department wanted deported without the right to appeal -- a violation of both common justice as well as the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Their crime? Not disclosing to Canadian immigration after World War II that as teenagers they had been forced to work for the Nazis. Not one has been judged a war criminal.

The Sun has argued strenuously on behalf of Wasyl Odynsky, 78, who as a 19-year-old farm boy was forced into the Nazi auxiliary on pain of death to his parents if he refused or ran away.

Federal Court Judge Andrew MacKay found Toronto's Odynsky committed no war crimes, killed no one, and has been a model citizen. But he may not have told immigration he'd been a perimeter guard for the Germans. He's slated to be deported, leaving his wife and grown children abandoned, with no right to appeal. When she was immigration minister, Elinor Caplan was adamant that he and others be kicked out of Canada without any appeal.

Today the Odynskys must feel relief. It's unlikely an Appeal Court, not to mention the Supreme Court, would ever condone citizenship being revoked on such frail evidence. In fact, the only one really eager about revoking citizenship without appeal is the Canadian Jewish Congress, while groups like B'nai B'rith endorse the right to appeal.

Convicted while ill

Another who has been ordered deported because he was felt not to have told the truth about his wartime service in Germany is Jacob Fast, who was convicted while unable to attend because of Alzheimer's. No appeal. The Sun has challenged his case too -- not the facts, just the denial of an appeal process.

The champion of the new legislation is Liberal Kitchener-Waterloo MP Andrew Telegdi, who resigned as Elinor Caplan's parliamentary secretary over what he calls the "draconian ... Star Chamber" process whereby cabinet can revoke citizenship without the right to an appeal. Telegdi came to Canada as a child from Hungary and has fought assiduously for the appeal process. He praises Immigration Minister Denis Coderre for "recognizing the demands of the grassroots to change the citizenship revocation process from a political to a judicial process."

The Liberal parties in Ontario and B.C. led the demand for change, supported by opposition MPs.

Some seven aging Ukrainian-Canadians will now likely remain in Canada, or at least have the right of appeal. The one case in dispute is that of Helmut Oberlander of Kitchener, whom Justice Mackay felt had not revealed that he'd been seconded as an interpreter for the Nazis in World War II. A governor-in-council ordered deportation with no appeal. Judge MacKay found no evidence that Oberlander had been involved in any war crimes.

Long struggle

According to Telegdi, the new appeal legislation may not apply to Oberlander, which, if true, is bizarre and makes Canada look foolish, vindictive and two-faced. To deport Oberlander now, without the right to appeal, would be like the state abolishing the death penalty, but saying those already convicted must first be executed.

It's been a long struggle, and the new legislation is a triumph for Telegdi, who's put his body on the line, introduced private member's bills for appeals, and voted against his government, risking his career. Right is finally being done, though the CJC may not be happy.

Later today, it's expected enough Liberal backbenchers will vote with the Opposition to remove the prime minister's right to appoint chairmen of committees, as Paul Martin recommends.

The mice are fighting back.