War Crimes Program
The War Crimes Program supports Canada’s policy to:
- deny safe haven to suspected perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide; and
- contribute to the domestic and international fight against impunity; and
- reflect the government’s commitment to international justice, respect for human rights, and strengthened border security.
To achieve these objectives, the Department of Justice and its partners work together to:
- prevent the admission to Canada of people involved in war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide;
- detect, at the earliest possible opportunity, alleged perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide who are in Canada, and take steps to prevent them from obtaining status or citizenship;
- revoke the status or citizenship of individuals involved or complicit in war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide who are in Canada, and remove them from Canada; and
- examine all claims that there are suspected perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity living in Canada and, where appropriate, investigate and prosecute these individuals.
Since the inception of Canada’s integrated War Crimes Program in 1998, a three-pronged approach has been taken in dealing with modern-day war criminals:
- Preventing suspected war criminals from reaching Canada by refusing their immigrant, refugee or visitor applications abroad;
- Detecting those who have managed to come to Canada and taking the necessary steps to:
- exclude them from the refugee determination process;
- prevent them from becoming Canadian citizens;
- revoke their citizenship should they be detected after acquiring that status; and,
- remove these individuals from Canada.
- Considering criminal prosecution, where appropriate, or extradition.
Scope and Definitions
The Program deals with Second World War cases and the modern, post-Second World War cases.
Second World War Crimes
The federal government’s position is that all legal options must be considered when dealing with alleged Second World War criminals and war-time collaborators, including civil action, criminal prosecution and extradition. In any given case, the Government must take into consideration the facts, nature and quality of the evidence, and Canada’s international obligations when selecting a remedy. Investigations into Second World War allegations will continue as long as viable routes of investigation remain open. As these cases are finalized, resources used in these investigations are redirected to modern cases.
Modern War Crimes
The issue of war crimes and crimes against humanity once again became more well-known in the 1990s. Political turmoil, internal ethnic conflict, the settling of historical grievances, and religious extremism in various countries around the globe caused considerable movement of refugees and migrants.
Within these flows, small numbers of individuals alleged to have been involved in war crimes or crimes against humanity could be found.
As the issues about the entry of war criminals into Canada grew more numerous and complex, it was clear that an improved system was needed to identify and screen these individuals.
The government responded by taking several initial steps, including:
- In April 1996, additional employees were assigned to a new Modern War Crimes Unit within Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC);
- In July 1998, the Government announced an integrated War Crimes Program in which the Department of Justice, the RCMP and CIC would collaborate closely on both Second World War and modern-day cases;
- In July 2000, the Government adopted the Crimes against Humanity and War Crimes Act. This new law, and the work of various international war crimes tribunals established in the 1990s, paved the road to renewed criminal investigations and prosecutions in Canada;
- In December 2003, CIC’s Modern War Crimes Unit was transferred to the Canada Border Services Agency, making the Agency the fourth official partner in Canada’s War Crimes Program.
The following definitions summarize the crimes that Canada’s Program considers, as found in the Crimes against Humanity and War Crimes Act, as well as other similar Canadian legislation.
- Crimes Against Humanity
- Includes crimes such as murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, imprisonment, torture, sexual violence, persecution and any other inhumane act or omission committed against civilians, in a widespread or systematic manner, whether or not the country is in a state of war, and regardless if the act is in violation of the territorial law in force at the time. The acts may have been committed by state officials or private individuals, and against their own nationals or nationals of other states.
- War Crimes
- Acts committed during an armed conflict that violate the rules of war. These acts include the ill treatment of civilian populations, torture and execution of prisoners of war, and extensive destruction and appropriation of property not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly.
The deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, whether committed in times of peace or in times of war, by state officials or private individuals. The following acts can amount to genocide:
- Killing members of the group;
- Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
- Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about the physical destruction, in whole or in part;
- Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; or
- Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
The first steps in the development of a broad Canadian War Crimes Program were taken in the mid-1980s, when it became known that a considerable number of Nazi war criminals had gained admission to Canada through a variety of illegal or fraudulent means.
The Commission of Inquiry on War Criminals
In response, the Government announced in February 1985 that Mr. Jules Deschênes, a Justice of the Court of Appeal of Quebec, would head an independent Commission of Inquiry to investigate these allegations. The Commission of Inquiry on War Criminals (also known as the Deschênes Commission) produced a report in December 1986, concluding that a number of suspected war criminals were indeed living in Canada. The government responded to this report in March 1987 by announcing that those alleged to have been involved in the commission of war crimes or crimes against humanity would be subject to criminal prosecution or have their citizenship revoked and be deported. Subsequently, the Department of Justice and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) set up specialized war crimes units and worked together in the investigations.
War Crimes Program
Building on the experience and success of these units, and seeing a need to extend its initiative, the Government announced in 1998 an ambitious War Crimes Program, involving the Department of Justice and the RCMP, as well as Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC). In December 2003, the newly created Canada Border Services Agency, which took over many of CIC’s modern war crimes activities and corresponding resources, became the fourth partner in the Program. At present, the program partners deal with allegations of crimes committed during the Second World War and modern (post-Second World War) conflicts.
Research & Reports
The Program produces and distributes reports to create a public record of its progress. Click on any of the links below to access the reports, which date back to 1998.
- Report of the War Crimes Program 2011-2015
- Report of the War Crimes Program 2008-2011
- Annual Report of the War Crimes Program 2007-2008
- Annual Report of the War Crimes Program 2006-2007
- Annual Report of the War Crimes Program 2005-2006
- Annual Report of the War Crimes Program 2004-2005
- Annual Report of the War Crimes Program 2003-2004
- Annual Report of the War Crimes Program 2002-2003
- Canada’s Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Program - Annual Report 2001-2002
- Canada’s War Crimes Program 2000-2001
- Canada’s War Crimes Program - Annual Report 1999-2000
- Annual Report of the War Crimes Program 1998-1999
- Public Report: Canada’s War Crimes Program 1998
Learn more about the Program partners, as well as organizations and resources around the world involving international criminal justice.
International Courts and Tribunals
- International Criminal Court (ICC)
- International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY)
- International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR)
- Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL)
- Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC)
- Deschênes Commission
- Citizenship Act
- Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act
- Extradition Act
- Immigration and Refugee Protection Act
- Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court
- Désiré Munyaneza Judgment
- Irma Finta Judgment
- Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Program, Summative Evaluation - Final Report - October 2008
- Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Program Evaluation - Final Report - August 2016
How to Reach Us
The Program was developed to ensure that war criminals are denied safe haven in Canada. As part of Canada’s global commitment to break the cycle of impunity, the Program is intended to help keep Canada’s borders safe, and to serve the present and protect all Canadians while ensuring justice for the victims of these reprehensible crimes.
We welcome your feedback, and invite you to contact the Department of Justice with any questions or comments:
Department of Justice
Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Section
284 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0H8
Fax: (613) 952-7370
If you are in the possession of information relating to potential perpetrators of war crimes living in Canada, we strongly encourage you to submit that information to the Department. All leads will be forwarded to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) for investigation. You can also contact the RCMP directly.
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