Underfunding war crimes program lets criminals avoid deportation: Report
Canwest News Service
Monday, February 23, 2009
Canada's War Crimes program has limited financial and human resources to investigate all alleged war criminals and deny them safe haven or prosecute them, according to a new federal report.
Among them is Leon Mugesera, a Rwandan man now living in Quebec City who was deemed a war criminal by the Supreme Court of Canada and ordered out of the country in 2005. He is still in Canada and exhausting all legal avenues.
In its 2006-07 annual report on Canada's Program on Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) noted that it faces challenges to balance its heavy caseload with its budget.
The report notes that "continued funding pressures" force the agency to focus on "the most cost-effective measures," such as early detection and preventing war criminals from entering Canada.
Sergio Karas, a Toronto immigration lawyer, said what upsets him more than the underfunding of the war crimes program is that so many convicted war criminals manage to stretch out their stay for years, even decades.
"I fail to understand why they get so many kicks at the can," Karas said. "Canada likes to pride itself as a compassionate nation, but do war criminals who have blood on their hands deserve any compassion?"
Bruce Broomhall, an international law professor at the University of Quebec at Montreal and an adviser to the Canadian Centre for International Justice (CCIJ), said the underfunding of the program prevents the government from prosecuting more war criminals.
"The (agency) is expressing these concerns in a diplomatic way, but what it means is that they don't have enough funding to pursue all the possible cases with the most robust measures possible and they have to be selective and focusing on preventive measures," he said.
Broomhall said that prevention can only deny access to new war criminals but does nothing to deal with those who are already in Canada.
"This has to be complimented by efforts to ensure that people are held criminally accountable for their actions," Broomhall said, noting that the war crimes program has been lauded throughout the world.
The number of immigrants - found to have been involved in war crimes or crimes against humanity - who were deported by Canada in 2007 was down to 35 from 41 in 2006. During that time, officials prevented 361 persons from coming to Canada.
The report, posted Friday on the CBSA website, also noted that at the end of March 2007, the agency had 59 enforceable removal orders as well as 162 outstanding warrants for people who did not report for removal.
The report says in 2006-07, CBSA officials filed 82 interventions at refugee hearings in cases involving war crime allegations. This number is significantly down from 237 the previous year, in part because of a lack of resources.
"Some regions have had to deal with staff turnover or understaffing, and with no budget increase in 10 years, had to concentrate on the most serious cases, which are most likely to succeed," the report states.
The annual funding of $15.6 million per year has not changed since the program was launched in 1998.
The CBSA and Citizenship and Immigration Canada get the lion's share of this budget, which is also shared with the Justice Department and the RCMP.
Only one alleged war criminal has been brought to justice in Canada. Desire Munyaneza has been charged in connection with the 1994 Rwandan genocide. His trial alone has cost an estimated $1.6 million and lasted more than a year and a half. It concluded last December and a verdict is expected to be months away.
The CBSA also mentions in the report its efforts to revoke the citizenship of Canadians found guilty of war crimes and genocide related to the Second World War. While Michael Seifert, known as the "Beast of Bolzano" for his cruelty to inmates in a prison camp in northern Italy, was extradited in February 2008 to Italy, six other cases are still pending.
The government is currently assessing if Jura Skomatczuk, Josef Furman, Vladimir Katriuk, Helmut Oberlander, Wasyl Odynsky and Jacob Fast will see their citizenship revoked.
A spokeswoman for CBSA declined to comment Monday on program funding and stressed the agency reviews all "(war crime) allegations and ensures that appropriate action is taken."