In a case of déjà vu all over again, Helmut Oberlander has been stripped of his Canadian citizenship.
This is the fourth time Oberlander has had his citizenship removed. And like all the previous instances, he promises to fight the decision.
Oberlander, 93, of Waterloo, Ont., has been accused of being a member of a Nazi mobile death squad, Einsatzkommando 10a (EK 10a), which operated in the Soviet Union during the Second World War.
The unit murdered an estimated 23,000 civilians, mostly Jews, but Oberlander has claimed he was a low-level interpreter who was conscripted under duress.
He also claims that he never took part in any of the killings and that he would have been shot had he tried to escape. He was never accused of participating in executions.
Born in Halbstadt, Ukraine, in 1924, Oberlander, an ethnic German, claims he was forcibly conscripted by the Nazis when he was 17.
He immigrated to Canada in 1954 and became a citizen in 1960. Ottawa began trying to strip him of his citizenship in 1995, prompting a protracted court battle.
In 2000, a Federal Court judge ruled that the retired developer had concealed, or lied, about his wartime service. The court found that Oberlander had been a member of EK 10a and later served as an infantryman.
The Canadian government stripped him of his citizenship in 2001, 2007 and 2012. But each time, it was reinstated by the Federal Court of Appeal, which said the government had not proven Oberlander’s complicity in war crimes.
The court restored his citizenship because the government applied “an outdated, archaic principle known as guilt by association,” Oberlander’s lawyer, Ronald Poulton, told The CJN via email.
“As there is no evidence of any wrongdoing by Mr. Oberlander, and evidence that he was forced under penalty of death as a teenager to work as a translator for the German unit, the government argued that his mere presence in the German unit was enough to find him a war criminal. Such a finding was untenable, and in violation of basic standards of law and decency, and was rebuffed by the courts.”
Last month, the federal government once again issued an order to revoke Oberlander’s citizenship.
“We are determined to deny safe haven in Canada to war criminals and persons believed to have committed or been complicit in war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide,” Pierre Deveau, spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, said in a statement.
A year ago, the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear an appeal of a lower court ruling that told the government to reconsider revoking Oberlander’s citizenship, handing the matter back to Cabinet.
Legal experts also point to a 2013 Supreme Court decision that redefined complicity in war crimes. The high court ruled that guilt by association was not enough to prove complicity in war crimes for those claiming refugee status.
Oberlander is seeking a judicial review of the cabinet’s decision, as he has done previously. A court hearing is expected in the fall, or early in the new year.
In a statement, Shimon Koffler Fogel, CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said CIJA applauds the government for its latest move.
“There is no statute of limitations for such heinous crimes, and the government deserves credit for its tireless efforts in this case. This latest development is an important milestone in bringing a measure of justice to his many victims and their families,” Fogel stated.
The government should not wait for the courts and should seek a removal order against Oberlander “immediately,” said B’nai Brith Canada senior legal counsel David Matas.
“The case has gone on for far too long. The government, at this late date, should act as quickly as it can,” Matas said in a statement.
“It is pleasing that Canada is once again re-engaging in this important case, in the pursuit of justice” said Avi Benlolo, president and CEO of the Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre.