What is the difference between the Nazi SS and Isis? A big one, it seems, in the eyes of Canada, where this week a federal court refused to review a decision to strip the Canadian citizenship of Helmut Oberlander, a Ukrainian immigrant with alleged ties to a Nazi killing squad in World War II.
According to the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC), Oberlander served as an interpreter in the Einsatzkommando, mobile death squads that swept through Eastern Europe in the early years of the war, liquidating men, women and children, mostly Jews, but also homosexuals, gypsies and communists. It is estimated that the squad Oberlander allegedly belonged to, Einsatzkommando 10a, killed 23,000 civilians during the war.
Oberlander arrived in Canada in 1954 and six years later became a citizen, having made no mention of his wartime service. When it eventually came to light, he claimed that he served only as a translator in the unit and never participated in any killings.
Oberlander has been stripped of his citizenship four times in a quarter of a century for having lied about his past, but he has successfully appealed each ruling. The federal court’s latest decision, in which they upheld the government’s conclusion that Oberlander ‘voluntarily made a knowing and significant contribution to the crimes and criminal purpose of this SS killing squad’ opens the way for his deportation. However, the 94-year-old is expected to appeal again.
Reacting to Thursday’s verdict, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussein said: ‘Canada should never be a safe haven for war criminals and people who’ve committed crimes against humanity, and we’re very pleased with the (court) decision.’
Commendable words, so why then are several former members of Isis living quietly in Canada? The similarities between the Islamic State and the Nazis are striking: both are guilty of genocide (against the Yazidi in the case of the former) with a reputation for rape, slavery and the most barbarous methods of execution. There is no difference between the sadism of the Einsatzkommando and that of the Islamic State, both full of depraved young men convinced they belonged to the master race with Jews as their preferred prey.
Yet when it comes to Isis, Canada takes a softly-softly approach. Last year, a ‘disillusioned’ Canadian citizen, who returned to Toronto after spending six months serving in the Islamic State’s morality police, was interviewed by the media. He explained that ‘All that’s behind me. We all do things that we regret.’ Another Toronto man admitted in an interview to the New York Times that he had been an Isis executioner. ‘They brought in these men wearing blue jumpsuits…they were blindfolded, handcuffed, came in as a line and sat in front of us,’ said Abu Huzaifa al-Kanadi, a pseudonym. ‘One shot. Clean to the head. Just finish them off.’
Last December, Canada’s Globe and Mail ran an editorial headlined: ‘Don’t exaggerate the threat from returning Islamic State fighters,’ a curious statement given that returning Islamic State fighters slaughtered 90 people in the Paris Bataclan in 2015. The Globe went on to say that a ‘thoughtful, composed discussion’ was required about how best to deal with the 60 jihadists who had returned to Canada. The paper believed a gentle touch was needed because ‘many of the people who joined Isis in Syria and Iraq are now deeply disillusioned and, in some cases, scarred by their experience.’
Yet in 2013, the Globe and Mail ran an opinion piece that was far more strident. ‘It’s never too late to prosecute war criminals’ was the headline and underneath the paper outlined why the West should continue to pursue the elderly men who served the Nazis in some capacity. ‘The hunting down of war criminals sends a universal message that such unspeakable crimes will not be tolerated by a civil society,’ it thundered. ‘It tells potential perpetrators that there is no place to hide; that they will be hunted for the rest of their lives.’
The contradiction of the Globe and Mail is mirrored by Justin Trudeau’s government. According to a report this year by Global News, a briefing note prepared for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, stated that ‘even if a Canadian engaged in terrorist activity abroad, the government must facilitate their return to Canada.’
Liberal apologists, and there are many in Canada, are always ready to jump to the defence of former jihadists, like Abu Huzaifa al-Kanadi, the self-confessed Isis executioner. According to the government-friendly CBC, he could have simply been making it all up. While others argue that some Isis returnees never actually made it to the caliphate, or if they did, didn’t take part in any killing. Those excuses didn’t work for Oberlander, and nor should they work for Isis returnees.