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Yaroslav Hunka, right, sits in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Sept. 22, 2023. Hunka, a 98-year-old who served in a Nazi-led Ukrainian SS division, was given standing ovations in the House of Commons during a visit by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky last year.Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press

As justice minister in the late 1960s, Pierre Trudeau opposed revoking the citizenship of a naturalized Canadian suspected of murdering 5,128 Jews in Latvia during the Second World War, over concerns about legality and social cohesion, long-redacted memos released on Thursday show.

And as prime minister in 1984, a year after the suspected firing-squad captain’s death, Mr. Trudeau continued his opposition to the legal strategy of citizenship revocation and deportation, saying it would cause great upset to immigrant communities in Canada, a previously redacted section of a 1986 report by historian Alti Rodal says.

While Mr. Trudeau’s opposition to prosecuting or deporting suspected Nazi war criminals has long been known, Jewish groups and Ms. Rodal say the unredacted sections provide fresh detail, including the words he used behind the scenes to his colleagues in government.

David Matas, an international human-rights lawyer based in Winnipeg and senior honorary counsel for B’nai Brith Canada, a Jewish group, questioned why Mr. Trudeau’s comments had been redacted for decades.

“Sometimes something is not disclosed because it tends to be politically embarrassing or awkward,” he said.

Ms. Rodal told The Globe and Mail that “Trudeau was adamantly against action” and the public was not made aware of this, because of the redactions.

The historian said Mr. Trudeau was not an antisemite, but believed that when people came to Canada they should leave past conflicts behind.

“He was concerned about the issue causing tensions in Canada,” she said.

The Rodal report was done for the 1985-86 Commission of Inquiry on War Criminals in Canada, headed by former Quebec judge Jules Deschênes, which investigated allegations that this country had become a safe haven for Nazi war criminals and collaborators.

The memos and most other redacted sections were made public Thursday by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Marc Miller. The federal government has been under growing pressure to release previously classified elements of the commission’s work since Yaroslav Hunka, a 98-year-old who served in a Nazi-led Ukrainian SS division, was given standing ovations in the House of Commons during a visit by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky last year.

The previously redacted sections of Ms. Rodal’s report explore, among other cases, the case of F, from Latvia, a suspected firing-squad captain. He had been convicted in absentia by the Soviet Union. A 1965 memo by the legal division of External Affairs observed that the Soviet Union had requested his extradition to embarrass the Canadian government, but that at the same time, Canada had no reason to doubt the truth of the accusations. If true, the memo says, F was “an ardent Nazi lackey, not only cooperating actively with the occupying German forces but actually serving their Jewish and Gypsy extermination squads.” The memo said Canada had denied requests for extradition in at least four cases.

When the Canadian Jewish Congress asked in 1966 for a re-examination of the legal possibilities for action, a meeting across government departments was held. Two ideas for addressing war criminals were rejected: the revocation of citizenship for failing to disclose details of their past, and therefore not being of “good character” as required in citizenship applications; and retroactive legislation to allow for trials in Canada. There was a caveat: If a major war criminal such as Martin Bormann, who was once suspected of being in Canada, turned up, retroactive laws might be considered.

Mr. Trudeau later wrote, in a memo to Paul Martin Sr., who was secretary of state for external affairs, that nothing in Canadian law suggests a citizenship application is “in the nature of a confessional, requiring the applicant to disclose all prior conduct.”

On the subject of F, the alleged firing squad captain, Mr. Trudeau added that while anxiety in the Jewish community was understandable, “it would be most ill-advised for the government to undertake this venture, which would involve publicly accusing a Canadian citizen of having committed crimes in Latvia in respect of which he has been convicted, in absentia, in Russia.” Such a move, Mr. Trudeau said in a separate memo, could suggest widespread revocations of citizenship ahead.

In 1984, he stressed the same point, when then justice minister Mark MacGuigan indicated a willingness to undertake a test case of revocation and deportation. Mr. Trudeau was interested, according to Ms. Rodal’s newly unredacted summary of this episode, but wanted cabinet to assess the political impact. His concern was that “a successful case leading to revocation could alarm large numbers of naturalized Canadians, who could be made to feel that their status in Canada was insecure as a consequence of the politics and history of the countries they had left behind.”

The federal government announced in 1987 it would allow for trials in Canada and citizenship revocation and deportation.

Mr. Matas said Mr. Trudeau has since been proven wrong on his legal concerns, as the courts have allowed the revocation of citizenship for intentional non-disclosure.

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