A couple of years ago my teenage daughter visited Canada during her summer vacation. Her itinerary included spending time with her pen pal Kimberly in Kitchener, Ontario, birthplace of Makenzie King, Canada's prime minister for a total of 21 years.
Kimberly took her to a small party to meet some good friends. It was pretty humdrum until shouts of "Germany rules" and "World War Two rules" pierced the air. They were repeated again and again to the sounds of a cheering chorus.
When my daughter protested, a boy called Christopher inquired where she came from. He was taken aback to hear it was Israel.
"You aren't a Jew, are you?" he demanded in disbelief. "You're not anything like what I'd expect. You look so Aryan."
"Am I supposed to look like a Nazi caricature?" she asked testily.
"Yeah," he answered unabashedly, taking off his baseball cap to reveal a blond crewcut. "I am the perfect Aryan specimen," he boasted and threw in some choice comments about how true the Protocols of the Elders of Zion are.
My Sabra was shaken. She had never personally encountered bigotry before and never expected it in what she assumed was an enlightened, liberal land.
I wasn't that naive but I was in for a Canadian surprise of my own a few days ago when I read that Canada had rejected the immigrant visa application of a Lebanese man identified only as Mr. X. He was disqualified due to an Israeli connection, arising from his service in the now-defunct South Lebanese Army. The information he passed on about Hizbullah could have helped democratic Israel foil some of the most bloody-minded terrorists ever, and even apprehend them.
But tipping Israel off rendered Mr. X undesirable in Canadian eyes and suspected of crimes against humanity.
Canada, he was informed, doesn't admit war criminals.
This is where you could have knocked me down with a feather.
Jewish groups, and not they alone, have long accused Canadian governments of complicity in harboring numerous suspected Nazi criminals. The 1986 Deschenes Commission of Inquiry on War Criminals painted a dismal picture of how Nazis were virtually welcomed into postwar Canada and how successive administrations ignored warnings that they were offering safe haven to war criminals.
Justice Jules Deschenes wanted the 580-page report to gain wide readership, but Ottawa first withheld it and then heavily censored its contents, presumably because it documents persistent anti-Jewish bias within its federal bureaucracy and a lack of vigor in scrutinizing immigrants.
It wasn't difficult for umbrella groups of Canadians of German, Ukrainian, Latvian and Lithuanian extraction to lobby friendly politicians to overlook the dubious pasts of visa applicants. A tireless campaign by influential Quebecois won waivers for French Nazi collaborators. The lobbyists represented sizable voting blocs and caving in to their pressure paid off.
But while ex-Nazis and their assistants enjoyed Canadian asylum, it was a different story for those of their Jewish victims who managed to stay alive.
They were decidedly unwanted. Ample evidence is available in the book None Is Too Many by historians Irving Abella and Harold Troper.
Canadian restrictions on Jewish immigration predate Hitler's fall. According to the Wiesenthal Center, "from 1933 to 1948 Canada's doors remained closed to Jews. Canada had arguably the worst record among all Western states in granting sanctuary to refugees from Nazi Germany."
Kitchener's native son served as Canada's premier (for the third time) between 1935-48.
IT DIDN'T take long for Jewish "new Canadians" to realize that their tormentors lived literally next door. Thus back in 1948 the Canadian Jewish Congress informed the Royal Canadian Mounted Police that Lithuanian immigrant Antanas Kenstavicius had supervised the massacres of thousands of Jews when he was stationed as police chief in Svencionilla between 1941-44. But the Mounties didn't rush to get their man.
Only on January 22, 1997 did deportation hearings begin against Kenstavicius and he died on that very day, aged 90, having lived a full life and never paying for crimes he occasionally bragged about.
Another collaborationist police officer, this time Hungarian Imre Finta, accused of sending 8,617 Jews to their deaths, was acquitted by the Canadian Supreme Court in 1994 on the grounds that he was following orders and was unaware he was committing war crimes.
Presumably Canadians had since cleaned up their act and Finta's defense would do Mr. X no good. Having wronged Europe's Jews, Canada made its new immigration criteria stringent enough to exclude those who collaborate with Israel's Jews.
This too is a way to atone for leniency in admitting so many war criminals and for managing to extradite too few to mention.
Such principled policy isn't unheard of. The sanctimonious Belgians found no better way to demonstrate their moral superiority than by attempting to try Ariel Sharon for war crimes, and the pompously pontificating French lose no opportunity to expose the Jewish state's depravity. Perhaps it's no coincidence that Canada was in league with both kindred countries in opposing the war against Saddam.
Keeping company with high-minded guardians of universal virtue can only generate more righteousness like keeping Mr. X out in the name of humane ethics.
Perhaps this can make up even in small measure for the fact that in 1951 former members of Germany's Nazi party gained entry into Canada and by 1955 the same was achieved by SS veterans.
It was in 1951, my daughter discovered, that Christopher's German grandfather showed up in Canada. Settling in Kitchener seemed natural. Up until 1916, when Teutonic names became unpopular, it was called Berlin, Ontario.
Deceased German POWs were interred there and each year Kitchener celebrates Oktoberfest. Advertising brochures my daughter brought home extol "the spirit of gemutlichkeit in Kitchener."
Very cozy indeed.
So much so, that Kimberly asked my kid to add her signature to a petition against the threatened deportation of a respected Kitchener resident and former Gestpo officer. Kimberly couldn't understand why the anti-extradition campaign should give offense.
"Whatever the man did long ago is irrelevant," she argued, "because he has repented and embraced his Lutheran faith" something that obviously can't be said of Mr.X.