Monday, June 04, 2007

"He was innocent but it took more than a decade to confirm."

The Hill Times ran Lubomyr Luciuk's op ed (below) on the Wasyl Odynsky case in today's (4 June) issue. May I suggest that you write in with your views? The more letters they get the more likely it is that MPs of all persuasions will appreciate our point of view.
Thanks.Letters to the Editor of The Hill Times should be sent to:

He was always innocent. But it took more than a decade to get that confirmed. Last month Cabinet ruled that Wasyl Odynsky will not be denaturalized and deported despite his having been demonized as a “Nazi” and a “collaborator” for over ten years.

Wasyl was just a teenager when the Second World War began. Press-ganged into a guard unit at the Trawniki labour camp he tried to escape. Recaptured he was told that if he attempted desertion again his entire family would be punished severely. Later he was transported to Germany, a slave labourer.

At war’s end Wasyl found shelter in a Displaced Persons camp, unwilling, like most political refugees, to return to the Soviet-dominated end of Europe. Eventually he was selected for resettlement in Canada. He swears he was never asked about his wartime service. That rings true. In the course of research on post-war immigration I interviewed dozens of DPs. Most reported being vetted primarily to determine if they were healthy and had useful skills.

Certainly no one disputes that Mr Odynsky has lived an exemplary life in Canada, raising a family, being a faithful churchgoer and active member of his community. He has no criminal record here. And in a 2001 ruling, federal court Judge Andrew MacKay found that Mr Odynsky served involuntarily throughout the war, had never been a Nazi, and that there was no evidence of any wartime wrongdoing on his part. Yet Mr Justice MacKay did accept Ottawa’s assertion that all DPs were screened thoroughly. And so he found that Odynsky may have lied to secure Canadian citizenship. It bears noting that all relevant screening documents were long ago destroyed, so there is no actual proof of what Mr Odynsky was asked, or answered. Thus the case boiled down to Wasyl’s word against the government’s claim that their officials perfectly screened each of the many hundreds of thousands of DPs they dealt with in the chaos of post-war Europe. Given that Ottawa’s men can’t seem to do that in peacetime this boast strains credibility, but I don’t claim a federal judge’s acumen.

Why Cabinet has decided not to expel Odynsky is unknown. Perhaps they recognized the simple truth that stripping someone of Canadian citizenship should be a serious matter, to be contemplated only when there is credible evidence of criminal wrongdoing. There isn’t any in Odynsky’s file.

Unfounded allegations did expose Odynsky, his family, and even his community, to many indignities. Unfortunately, Ottawa is unlikely to offer Wasyl an apology, or compensation for what he endured, unless he and his buddies get their hands on an old school bus and blockade a railway line somewhere soon. Given that we are dealing with a law-abiding 83 year old, whose community never gets federal grants that can then be applied for the purpose of undermining the national economy, that too seems unlikely. All one can hope for is that Mr Harper’s government will recognize that the process of denaturalization and deportation is critically flawed and will do away with what is, after all, a Liberal legacy. Whether someone is guilty of being a war criminal should be determined in our criminal courts, nowhere else.

If, however, advocates of denaturalization and deportation get their way, and this illiberal method continues to be applied, at least it should be used without prejudice. There are self-confessed veterans of the notorious Soviet secret police, the NKVD, SMERSH and KGB, enjoying pensions here. Some arrived just after the war, just like Wasyl. Were they screened as carefully as he allegedly was? If so they must have lied about their wartime activities. Since, by their own published accounts, their service to Stalin included torturing and murdering, one must ask - what are they still doing here?

As I have never met a Canadian who wants this country to house any war criminals, particularly real ones, the RCMP should be investigating how Communist killers came to be living amongst us. I, for one, would be happy to see them all rounded up and expelled, whence they came. They were killers. Wasyl wasn’t. That’s why he can stay.

Professor Lubomyr Luciuk wrote Searching for Place: Ukrainian Displaced Persons, Canada, and the Migration of Memory (University of Toronto Press, 2001) and is co-author of Their Just War: Images of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (Kashtan Press, 2007).