Ottawa agrees to revisit case of suspected Nazi war criminal Vladimir Katriuk

Canada's reputation for hunting down and ousting Nazi war criminals from the country has been spotty.

The government largely ignored their presence until the mid 1980s, according to the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies and when aging Nazis were exposed they often tied up their deportation in the courts for years.

So news that Ottawa was reopening the case of Vladimir Katriuk was welcomed this week by Holocaust survivors, the National Post reports.

A four-member delegation met with Justice Minister Rob Nicholson and Immigration Minister Jason Kenny to urge the government to take action against the Montreal resident after new evidence came to light tying him to a massacre in Eastern Europe during the Second World War.

The group, which included former prisoners of Dachau and Auschwitz, handed the ministers copies of a new academic research paper that described Katriuk's alleged role in the 1943 Khatyn massacre.

"Clearly the research that we presented is new information and I think that they have to analyze it but they have committed to us that they will do so," Wiesenthal Centre president Avi Benlolo told the Post. "They will look at it and they will get the wheels in motion to bring it back to the forefront before it's too late."

Time is running out to bring alleged Nazi war criminals to justice. Like Katriuk, who is 90, they are elderly and have lived most of their lives unmolested since coming to Canada.

Kenny spokeswoman Ana Curic said the government would not comment on specific cases but said it was committed to identifying and removing war criminals from Canada, "including revisiting new evidence on previously examined cases."

Katriuk, who was part of a Waffen-SS unit operating in Belarus, in the former Soviet Union during the war, has lived in Canada since 1951. The Federal Court ruled in 1999 that he lied to obtain Canadian citizenship but the cabinet decided in 2007 not to revoke it, the Post said.

But recently declassified documents used for a paper published in the academic journal Holocaust and Genocide Studies implicated Katriuk in the 1943 massacre of residents of the village of Khatyn, whom the Germans suspected were supporting partisan forces.

"Katriuk's participation in the Khatyn massacre is confirmed by multiple testimonies, and in some detail," the paper's author Per Anders Rudling told the Post.

"The testimonies are consistent in identifying Katriuk as a machine gunner at Khatyn, and indeed in other atrocities. Together, the material produces a compelling evidence that Katriuk was indeed an active participant in the massacre."

Katriuk, who said he was unaware of Rudling's paper, said he testified that he did not join the Waffen-SS battalion voluntarily and that his role was limited to guarding villagers and livestock.

Benlolo said Kenny also committed to revisiting the case of Helmet Oberlander, an ethnic German from the Ukraine accused of being part of a Nazi death squad. The government had his Canadian citizenship revoked but the Federal Court of Appeal struck down the decision.

The Wiesenthal Centre estimates about 2,000 Nazi war criminals lied their way into Canada after the war but were largely ignored until 1985, when the government's Deschenes Commission looked into the question. It recommended changes to the law to make it easier to prosecute or deport suspected war criminals. But since then only a handful of cases have been dealt with.

"There is no joy in seeing these men expelled from Canada, - just the knowledge that we have done something on behalf of those who were killed by these men and hopefully, at last, a sense of justice," Holocaust survivor Max Iland said in a Wiesenthal Centre news release.