Canada’s war crimes program has not publicly updated its activities in eight years

OTTAWA — A federal government unit charged with preventing war criminals from entering Canada has not published a report on its activities in more than eight years, and its budget has not been adjusted in more than two decades .

The War Crimes Program’s mandate is to prevent Canada from becoming a safe haven for people accused of committing atrocities, including genocide and crimes against humanity.

This is a joint effort between the Departments of Justice and Immigration, the RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency.

Between the program’s launch in 1998 and 2008, it reported annually on its activities, documenting hundreds of cases in which suspected war criminals were investigated, as well as the results of those investigations.

Since then, the agency has produced only two reports, and none since 2015. Asked about the missing data, a spokesperson did not give a reason for the lack of reports.

“The War Crimes Program is currently working to modernize its public reporting practices by collecting data from 2016 to the present with a view to updating the website,” Ian McLeod said in an email.

He also indicated that the annual budget is $15.6 million. This is the same allocation the program received each year between 1998 and 2015, according to published reports.

David Matas, senior counsel for B’nai Brith Canada, said the lack of reporting is a problem.

But he said that wasn’t really surprising because the program also suffered from a lack of funding.

“It’s a sad story,” Matas said in an interview. “They don’t have much to report. Or you could say that in light of the underfunding, things haven’t changed much.”

The program was born about 11 years after a report by the Deschênes Commission on war criminals.

The commission was launched in 1985 following the publication of newspaper articles in Canada and the United States that notorious Nazi doctor Josef Mengele had applied for landed immigrant status in Canada.

Although she ultimately concluded that Mengele had not sought entry to Canada, she found evidence that hundreds of former Nazis may be living in Canada and recommended further investigations.

Initially, the Department of Justice and the RCMP created special sections to deal with war crimes, but in 1998 the real war crimes program was launched, involving the Department of Immigration. The Canada Border Services Agency joined in 2003.

The program had two different strands, including one dealing with cases from World War II and another for what it considered “modern” cases, or events that occurred later.

Available reports show that in 2008, Canada investigated more than 1,800 cases related to the Second World War, and that 28 of them resulted in actions, including attempted prosecutions, revocation of citizenship or expulsion.

Most of these people died before the cases were concluded, but citizenship was revoked in five cases, two people were deported and two left voluntarily.

By 2007, the War Crimes Program had reviewed more than 33,000 cases involving allegations of “modern” war crimes, including people trying to come to Canada and those already here.

The program said it prevented the entry of 3,721 people, denied asylum requests to nearly 600 people and expelled 443 people.

Canada’s efforts to deport or prosecute war criminals have come under increased scrutiny since Parliament last September applauded a man who was later identified as having fought with a Nazi unit in Ukraine during the Second War worldwide.

That review included renewed calls for the government to release in full all pages of the Deschênes Report and the so-called Rodal Report, a historical account of war criminals in Canada written for the Deschênes Commission by historian Alti Rodal.

Both reports have been released in bits and pieces over the past three decades, including 15 new, unexpurgated pages from the Rodal report by Immigration Minister Marc Miller earlier this month.

Matas, who has pushed for years for the release of the full reports, said Canada must learn what it did wrong before to prevent history from repeating itself.

The country still has difficulty admitting accused war criminals, he explained, and one reason for that is that “we haven’t released this information.”

Miller told the Canadian Press last week that because Canada does not have a formal declassification regime governing how historical documents are declassified and made public, it must review the reports and decide what will be released from punctual manner.

“The decision is in my hands,” he said.

He said he has asked the War Crimes Program to examine what filter has been applied to each report so far, what material remains undisclosed and what legal interests still need to be protected.

But he added that disclosing the list of names of those accused of war crimes in the Deschênes report is delicate, because it could harm the families of the accused.

“This is a consideration that should not be exaggerated or minimized, but is there any protection for the deceased and their families, who could be denigrated?” » Miller said.

“And they would bear the sins of their fathers, who may or may not have committed war crimes. So it’s a very sensitive consideration that we have to look at.”

Matas said that’s not how the Canadian justice system works.

“Publicity is the soul of justice,” he said.

“When the courts are open, justice itself is on trial. The idea that the courts should be closed because it might embarrass the parents or descendants of those on trial is absurd.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in February. 21, 2024.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

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