The Commission of Inquiry on War Criminals in Canada, often referred to as the Deschênes Commission, was established by the government of Canada in February 1985 to investigate claims that Canada had become a haven for Nazi war criminals. Headed by retired Quebec Superior Court judge Jules Deschênes, the commission delivered its report in December 1986 after almost two years of hearings.
In 1985, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney ordered an investigation into the presence of Nazi war criminals in Canada after a member of Parliament claimed infamous Nazi doctor Joseph Mengele might be in the country.
The establishment of the commission put the Canadian Jewish community at odds with the Baltic- and Ukrainian-Canadian communities. The Baltic and Ukrainian groups objected to the use of evidence from the Soviet Union and other Iron Curtain countries. and also objected to the selective mandate of the Commission, which made no effort to investigate the presence of a small number of Soviet war criminals - veterans of the NKVD, SMERSH and KGB - who were identified as being in Canada.
The commission compiled a list of 774 potential war criminals in Canada. 341 of them never landed or resided in Canada, 21 had landed in Canada but had left for another country, 86 had died in Canada, and 4 could not be located. The commission found prima facie evidence against 20 individuals; another 169 cases were not acted upon because of a lack of access to overseas evidence or time constraints.[a] Late in 1986, the commission turned the names of the 20 people over to the government with recommendations on how to proceed in each case.
The commission also recommended changes to criminal and citizenship law. In June 1987, the House of Commons passed legislation that allowed for the prosecution of foreign war crimes in Canadian courts and the deportation of naturalized war criminals.
Canadian prosecutors pressed charges against at least four men on allegations of participation in Holocaust war crimes. One case ended in acquittal; two cases were dropped when prosecutors had trouble obtaining overseas evidence; the fourth case was stayed due to the health of the defendant.
Since 1998, courts have found that six men misrepresented their wartime activities and could have their citizenship revoked although this was not done because the evidence was circumstantial and insufficient. Another seven people subject to deportation or citizenship-revocation procedures have died. Despite calls for an investigation into Soviet war criminals in Canada (former members of the NKVD, SMERSH and KGB, of whom several self-identified and remained in Canada without repercussion) no such inquiry was ever held. More recently documentary evidence has emerged from declassified Soviet-era archives confirming that the Soviets deliberately sowed discord between the Jewish and Ukrainian diasporas - Operation Payback - in order to thwart any common front emerging between these communities, precasting this divisiveness by provoking the formation of the OSI (Department of Justice) in the USA and the Deschenes Commission in Canada.
- "In a further 97 cases, the Commission could not find prima facie evidence of war crimes, but believed that such evidence might exist in East European countries."
- Purves, Grant (16 October 1998). "War Criminals: The Deschênes Commission; (87-3E)". publications.gc.ca. Government of Canada, Political and Social Affairs Division. Retrieved 11 February 2021.
- Luciuk, Lubomyr (12 August 2020). "Deschenes Commission confirmed war criminal numbers 'grossly exaggerated'". thewhig.com. Postmedia Network. Retrieved 11 February 2021.
- The actual report of the Commission of Inquiry on War Criminals is available on-line (in English and French)
- B'nai B'rith Canada, "Traditional holding pattern on Nazi-era cases has made Canada a magnet for modern day war criminals, says B’nai Brith," August 18, 2006.
- David Matas, "Seeking Global Justice," (Remarks to the federal Liberal caucus immigration roundtable, Regina, Saskatchewan, August 23, 2005).
- Gloria Galloway, "Deportation calls mount against elderly Nazi 'enablers,'" The Globe and Mail 30 Jan. 2007.
- Wasyl Veryha. Along the Roads of World War II. War Criminals in Canada? (Commission of Inquiry on War Criminals Report)
- Roman Serbyn. Alleged War Criminals, the Canadian Media, and the Ukrainian Community Archived 2007-09-28 at the Wayback Machine