A version of this article appeared in the Montreal Gazette on June 26, 1995 

Canadians are sitting on a ticking bomb and don’t know it yet. For years, the issue of war criminals in Canada has simmered under the surface of our collective consciousness or has been relegated to a bin marked “not my problem - somebody else’s.”

For the past decades, that somebody else has been the Jewish community and its organizations, which have consistently lobbied for action on suspected war criminals from World War II.

Because of previous inaction, developments on the international scene and our lack of readiness to deal with this issue, Canadians may now be faced with a situation where our government is relatively impotent in dealing with individuals in Canada suspected of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

This impotence is highlighted by the recent case of Konrads Kalejs, an individual with Australian citizenship who lived for more than 30 years in the United States. He was deported from that country in 1994 and is now in Canada.

Mr. Kalejs is alleged to have a been a first lieutenant and company commander of the Arajs Kommando, a Latvian auxiliary police unit that helped the Nazis in rounding up and shooting Jews, Gypsies, communists and so on.

Kalejs was identified as a suspected war criminal by American authorities who proceeded to deport him. He fled the United States and returned under an assumed name. He was eventually tracked down and arrested, then released when he posted bail of $750,000.

Through legal procedures and appeals up to the Supreme Court of the United States, the decision to deport was upheld. However, the process took almost a decade, when he was finally deported to Australia in 1994.

Now Kalejs has entered Canada as a visitor. Canadian authorities have called him to an immigration hearing, but he has already won a delay of two months. Since his arrival in Canada and even after being served by immigration authorities, Kalejs is a free man. Will his deportation process in Canada take another 10 years?

More trouble is brewing on the horizon. The government has this year indicated its intentions to deport Leon Mugasera, an individual alleged to have committed crimes against humanity in Rwanda. Recently, the government announced it was also moving against seven individuals alleged to have committed human-rights offences. Again, all of these are currently free.

And how long will the deportation processes take? Procedural delays are already occurring in these and other cases. And to where, in the end, will we deport these people? Canada is a signatory of international agreements preventing the return of individuals to situations where they would be subject to torture or summary execution. Canada has already been criticized by the United Nations for trying to deport an individual convicted of a crime in Canada to a situation where the threat of torture is great.

Even if Canada succeeds in deporting Kalejs, it would be to Australia where he is a citizen. What measures are there in place to ensure that, once deported, none of these people come back? Indeed, how can we ensure that we keep out the more than 40 people suspected of war crimes already deported from the United States?

Unfortunately, we do not have a good record in keeping suspected war criminals and perpetrators of human-rights abuses out of the country. Our borders are porous.

Canada’s mechanisms for dealing with these people once they are here are even weaker than the ability to keep them out in the first place. Prosecution is out of the question, since the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision on Imre Finta rendered the use of the Criminal Code difficult, if not impossible.

This decision, which appears to allow anti-Semitism as a defence for killing Jews, has not been clarified by the Supreme Court. B’Nai Brith has lodged a complaint against Canada with the Inter- American Commission on Human Rights based on this decision.

Nor does Bill C-44, the government’s bill on immigration, do anything to solve this situation. The bill is harder on convicted felons than on suspected war criminals who still have rights of appeal, including to the minister.

We need better methods of keeping such people out of the country in the first place; a computerized watch list that is checked against the names of people coming in at airports would be one measure.

We need to revise our criminal law so that prosecution becomes a realistic option. Otherwise, because of international law on torture and extra-judicial execution, we might be forced to allow suspected war criminals to stay in this country in complete freedom.

We need more efficient processes for deporting individuals suspected of war crimes. Deportation to War Crimes Tribunals rather than to specific countries should be made legal. It should not take 10 years for every case before the courts to be resolved.

There is more mobility in the world today than ever before. We are all involved in war-crimes and human-rights offences when we do not help to punish the perpetrators. If Canadians do not demand action, we may wake to find our country the favorite haven of suspected war criminals from around the world.

Rubin Friedman is director of government relations with B’Nai Brith Canada. David Matas is chairman of its war-crimes committee.