TORONTO — A government decision to strip Canadian citizenship from an elderly man, who argued he was forced as a teenager to join a Nazi death squad, was reasonable, a Federal Court judge ruled on Thursday.
In a ruling that again paves the way to deport Helmut Oberlander, Judge Michael Phelan found the government’s decision more than a year ago to have been justified and transparent.
“It is uncontested that Oberlander obtained his Canadian citizenship by false representation or by knowingly concealing material circumstances by failing to disclose involvement in the SS at the time of his immigration screening,” Phelan wrote. “There is no doubt that to have done so would have resulted in the rejection of his citizenship application.”
The government maintains the Ukraine-born Oberlander, 94, of Waterloo, Ont., lied about his three-year membership in Einsatzkommando 10a, known as Ek 10a. The Second World War Nazi death squad, which operated behind the German army’s front line in eastern Europe, was responsible for killing close to 100,000 people, most Jewish.
In his defence, Oberlander argued he was conscripted as a 17-year-old and faced execution for desertion. He said he served as an interpreter from 1941 to 1943, performed only mundane duties, and never took part in any killings. On that last point, Phelan agreed with him.
“No evidence was led that indicated (Oberlander) directly participated in the atrocities committed by Ek 10a,” Phelan said. “But he was aware that these atrocities were being committed.”
Neither Oberlander’s lawyer nor daughter, who has said her father was in increasingly poor health, were immediately available to comment on the decision, which Jewish groups praised along with the government’s efforts.
In Ottawa, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said the court decision reaffirms the government’s view that Canada “should never be a safe haven for war criminals and people who’ve been accused of crimes, who’ve committed crimes against humanity.”
Oberlander and his wife — she died in 2013 — came to Canada in 1954. He became a Canadian citizen six years later. However, he failed to disclose his wartime experience when he came to Canada, and has been fighting government efforts to deport him since his membership in Ek 10a came to light in 1995.
Among other things, the father of two argued that Ottawa failed to consider whether he had joined Ek 10a under duress.
“If the applicant knew nothing and did only mundane activities, it was unclear why he claimed to have been under duress,” Phelan said.
In June 2017, the government revoked the retired businessman’s citizenship for the fourth time, prompting him again to turn to the courts in an effort to stave off deportation.
In dismissing the challenge, Phelan leaned on a previous court finding of “many inconsistencies and improbabilities” in Oberlander’s evidence and a “pattern of minimizing his wartime role, which gave rise to serious doubts regarding reliability.”
Ultimately, Phelan said, Ottawa’s citizenship action was absent bad faith, and legally and factually defensible. That the case has taken this long, Phelan said, was largely because of Oberlander’s successes to date in fighting efforts to remove him.
“For survivors, this issue remains an open wound,” Sidney Zoltak, past president of the Canadian Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Descendants, said on Thursday. “It is painful to think that Oberlander and others who perpetrated heinous crimes against our families have, for so long, concealed their past and taken advantage of welcoming countries like Canada.”