OTTAWA – A stagnant budget, inadequate training and lack of public communication have eroded Canada’s efforts to deny safe haven to war criminals, says an internal evaluation.
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The study also uncovered concerns about a trend toward using immigration law to expel war criminals rather than pursuing prosecutions or revoking citizenship.
Overall, there were fears that Canada’s contribution to combating crimes against humanity was “diminishing due to capacity and resource issues.”
A January 2016 presentation of preliminary evaluation findings about the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Program was released to The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.
“Resources have not changed since 1998 and are considered inadequate,” says the presentation, prepared for the Justice Department by Prairie Research Associates.
Michael Davis, a spokesman for Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, declined to comment on the initial findings, noting the evaluation process is ongoing.
The multi-agency federal program, with an annual budget of about $16 million, tries to keep war criminals out of Canada, prevent those in Canada from obtaining citizenship, revoke the status of people complicit in atrocities and investigate and prosecute suspects when appropriate.
The consultants examined data, surveyed staff and interviewed 49 people – including federal employees and representatives of foreign governments, NGOs and academic institutions.
However, they found complete annual performance data existed only through 2010-11, making the assessment challenging and highlighting a desire for “more accountability,” even among program personnel.
There was “indirect evidence” the program had been effective, such as the denial of more than 3,000 visas over 10 years on grounds of war crimes or crimes against humanity.
Still, there had only been two citizenship revocation cases for modern war crimes, with most revocation files involving Second World War cases.
In the same vein, the program had undertaken just two prosecutions for modern war crimes, reflecting the “difficulty in having sufficient evidence to lay charges and the high cost of prosecutions.”
“Some key informants questioned the preference for immigration remedies, arguing that this approach displaces criminals rather than holds them accountable.”
Many believed the program was effectively managing files, though there were “indications of strain.”
The percentage of program personnel who indicated they were somewhat or highly satisfied with the program as a means of denying safe haven fell to 59 per cent in 2015 from 74 per cent in 2008.
“There are concerns that Canada’s visible leadership role is waning.”
- Over two-thirds of those surveyed said training was inadequate.
- Co-operation among partner departments was generally seen to work well, but communication regarding active files “could be improved” and the relationship between the RCMP and Justice Canada “remains a work in progress.”
- Loss of expertise due to retirement was a key risk for the program.
In addition, various program subcommittees “appear to have stagnated” in the last five years, the presentation says.
The research and virtual library committees did not seem to have met since 2011, the standardized training committee had been on hold since 2013 and there had been no major refresh of the War Crimes Program website for five years.