War Crimes

A commission of inquiry on war criminals was established in February 1985 in response to longstanding charges that Canada has become a haven for Nazi war criminals after WWII, including an allegation that Joseph Mengele has entered the country. After nearly 2 years of hearings, the commission, presided over by the former chief justice of Québec's Superior Court, the Honourable Jules Deschênes - the inquiry is commonly referred to as the "Deschênes " - reported to the government of then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in December of 1986.

Conclusions of the Inquiry

It concluded that hundreds of files concerning alleged war criminals should be closed, either because the accused were dead, had never entered Canada (as was the case with Mengele) or the evidence was insufficient. However further investigation was urged in dozens of other files.

Then Justice Minister Ray Hnatyshyn (later to become the governor general of Canada) proposed a "made in Canada" response and introduced amendments to the Criminal Code of 1987 which allow for the prosecution of Nazi and other war criminals found in this country. Up to that point, the only Canadian legal proceeding in a war-crimes case involved the extradition in 1983 of Albert Helmut Rauca to the Federal Republic of Germany. The accused died in a German prison before coming to trial.


Charges were laid against Imre Finta of Toronto in 1988 as a result of his participation in the transfer of thousands of Hungarian Jews to the Auschwitz death camp. After a lengthy jury trial, Finta was acquitted. The case was appealed all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, which in 1994 found the provisions on war crimes to be constitutional, but a controversial ruling that has been critiqued by some as a retreat from international law standards also upheld the acquittal. Trials in 3 other war-crimes prosecutions were never completed due to either the unavailablility of witnesses or because of the accused's inability to stand trial for health reasons.

The federal Justice Department now favours denaturalization and deportation of suspected Nazi war criminals who concealed their past upon entry into Canada. There are currently 4 such cases slowly working their way through the courts. The one successs thus far is that of Jacob Luitjens, who was deported to the Netherlands in 1992 after Canadian courts found that he had failed to reveal his postwar conviction in Holland for collaborating with the Nazis. He was released from a Dutch jail in spring 1995.

Under Canadian law, it is possible to try war criminals and perpetrators of crimes against humanity whose crimes have been committed outside Canada, as, for example, in the recent genocide in Rwanda, but no such case has yet been brought. Canada has been a strong supporter of the United Nations tribunal investigating crimes in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, contributing some $1.5 million. Four Canadians have played prominent roles in the tribunal: Justice Jule Deschênes, Commander William Fenrick, Al Breault and most notably Justice Louise Arbour, who headed a mission in 1999 to investigate crimes in Kosovo.