A 97-year-old immigrant who has spent a quarter century fending off deportation from Canada over allegations he was complicit in Nazi war crimes is close to death, according to documents filed before a tribunal.
Since 1995, Helmut Oberlander has been fighting legal bids by the federal government to strip him of his citizenship and send him back to Europe because of his involvement in a Nazi squad during the Second World War.
His legal odyssey is entering its final stages, but it is no longer clear he will live to see the outcome of the decades-old deportation bid.
The federal Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) convened this week to hear evidence in the case, which has been mired in years of court appeals over its legal processes. In 2019, the Supreme Court of Canada declined to look at the case.
Documents recently filed at the IRB by Mr. Oberlander’s lawyers include assessments from medical experts who say death is imminent. “He is near the end of life,” reads a submission from geriatric specialist George Heckman.
The medical records say the widower lives alone in a rented room and he has had 12 overnight hospital stays this year during a three-month period. When healthier, Mr. Oberlander is said to spend his days sitting in a recliner chair, suffering hallucinations and “daily excruciating pain.”
IRB spokeswoman Anna Pape said this week’s hearing will take a renewed look at the allegations of war crimes and determine whether Mr. Oberlander should be removed from Canada. Any removal order from the tribunal could still be appealed, Ms. Pape said, adding that the government would have to decide when to deport him.
Mr. Oberlander has admitted that as a teenager, he was an interpreter for what the Federal Court of Canada has called a “civilian-killing squad” active in Nazi-occupied Ukraine. He has argued that he was a non-violent conscript “caught between the brutal worlds of Stalin and Hitler” in the 1940s.
Federal ministers and judges have ruled that Mr. Oberlander, who was born in Ukraine, should be kicked out of Canada because the group he was part of, known as Einsatzkommando 10a, or EK 10a, was infamous. A past federal court ruling reads that “the five EK units of Einsatzgruppen D, to which EK 10a belonged, executed 55,000 civilians between June, 1941, and mid-December, 1941, and another 46,000 by April, 1942, and many more thereafter. … By August, 1942, EK 10a had executed so many thousands of Jews that its operational area was declared Judenrein [Jew-free].”
A lawyer acting for Mr. Oberlander argued on Tuesday that this week’s IRB hearings should be closed to reporters because publicity around the case has resulted in vitriolic threats against his family. “We have received messages using strong profanity against my grandfather and my family wishing for us to be tortured and killed,” reads an affidavit filed by Mr. Oberlander’s grandson Jamie Rooney.
Lawyers for the media opposed the publication ban, and IRB adjudicator Karen Greenwood decided not to put one in place. Such a ban would harm “the public interest in an open and accessible proceeding,” she ruled.
Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.