Deschênes Commission

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The Commission of Inquiry on War Criminals in Canada, often referred to as the Deschênes Commission, was established by the government of Canada in February 1985 to investigate claims that Canada had become a haven for Nazi war criminals. Headed by retired Quebec Superior Court judge Jules Deschênes, the commission delivered its report in December 1986 after almost two years of hearings. It publicly scolded those who has deliberately spread "grossly exaggerated" numbers about the supposed presence in Canada of "Nazi war criminals." Some of those branded as "Nazis" (see cases 179 and 180, for example) proved to be elderly German Canadians deemed suspicious because they lived in a remote location, sold antique European furniture and had two black dogs.

In 1985, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney ordered an investigation into the presence of Nazi war criminals in Canada after a member of Parliament claimed infamous Nazi doctor Joseph Mengele might be in the country.[1] This proved to be "fake news" promulgated by those hoping to provoke the creation of this Commission.

The establishment of the commission put the Canadian Jewish community at odds with the Baltic- and Ukrainian-Canadian communities. The Baltic and Ukrainian groups objected to the use of evidence from the Soviet Union and other Iron Curtain countries.[1] and also objected to the selective mandate of the Commission, which made no effort to investigate the presence of a small number of Soviet war criminals - veterans of the NKVD, SMERSH and KGB - who were identified as being in Canada.

The commission compiled a list of 774 potential war criminals in Canada. 341 of them never landed or resided in Canada, 21 had landed in Canada but had left for another country, 86 had died in Canada, and 4 could not be located. The commission found prima facie evidence against 20 individuals; another 169 cases were not acted upon because of a lack of access to overseas evidence or time constraints.[1][2] Late in 1986, the commission turned the names of the 20 people over to the government with recommendations on how to proceed in each case.

The commission also recommended changes to criminal and citizenship law. In June 1987, the House of Commons passed legislation that allowed for the prosecution of foreign war crimes in Canadian courts and the deportation of naturalized war criminals.[1] In effect the Commission's work resulted in a "made in Canda" solution - when strict rules of evidence were called for (criminal court proceedings) none of the cases submitted were found to be sufficiently well founded for trials to take place.

The new criminal law set a reasonably high bar for proving complicity in war crimes. Canadian prosecutors pressed charges against at least four men on allegations of participation in Holocaust war crimes. One case ended in acquittal; two cases were dropped when prosecutors had trouble obtaining overseas evidence; the fourth case was stayed due to the health of the defendant.

The government has been somewhat more successful in civil proceedings against accused wartime criminals. Since 1998, courts have found that six men, all Ukrainian, misrepresented their wartime activities and could have their citizenship revoked. This was not done because the evidence was circumstantial and insufficient. Another seven people subject to deportation or citizenship-revocation procedures have died.

However, the Cabinet has yet to revoke the citizenship of any of the men. Meanwhile, no Soviet war criminals were ever brought to trial in Canada.

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  1. ^ a b c d Grant Purves, "War Criminals: The Deschênes Commission", 1998.
  2. ^ In 97 cases, the Commission could not find prima facie evidence of war crimes, but believed that such evidence might exist in East European countries.

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