Canadian Nazi hunters have established a snitch telephone line they hope will turn aging war criminals against each other and prompt the Canadian government to quicken its pace in investigating and deporting them.
The confidential phone extension at the Canadian Jewish Congress in Montreal will be monitored by private investigator Steven Rambam, who rekindled controversy last year over Canada's record in prosecuting former Nazis by posing as a college professor and interviewing dozens of suspected Canadian war criminals.
Tapes and other information from the interviews were presented to Canadian authorities, who characterized the material as "of some value" but not enough on its own to warrant immediate charges. They pledged to look into the matter further.
Not satisfied with the speed or aggressiveness of the response, however, the Jewish Congress and Rambam announced this week that they will pursue the investigation and have established the phone line in hopes of developing detailed dossiers on suspected former Nazis. The intent is that former Nazis and collaborators will inform on each other; in return, the congress will encourage Canadian authorities to give the informants immunity from possible prosecution.
"If you are a war criminal, this is your last chance," Rambam told the Ottawa Citizen newspaper. "If you don't come forward and cooperate with us, we may very well end up building a case against you with another cooperative witness."
If Canadian authorities don't pursue the suspects, Jewish Congress officials said details of each case _ absent only the names _ will be released publicly.
"We are frustrated," said the congress' spokesman, Mike Cohen. "The heat has got to be turned up. . . . We have a window of two or three years after which time we may not be able to get them. They are dying. Witnesses are dying."
The generally peaceful life led by World War II war criminals in Canada has long concerned Canadian Jewish leaders, who point to the U.S. Justice Department's deportation of dozens of war criminals as a model their country should follow.
Instead, they contend, Canada has become a refuge for some of those fleeing authorities in the United States.
In one particularly frustrating case, the Canadians, using information known by Jewish investigators for more than 40 years, began deportation hearings against a British Columbia man implicated in the murder of 5,500 Jews in Lithuania. As the proceedings opened against him in January, he died. He was 92.
"That evidence stood somewhere for 47 years," said Bernie Farber, community relations director for the congress.
Part of the problem is procedural: Canada initially sought to bring the former Nazis to justice by leveling criminal charges against them, but the tactic was blocked by a Supreme Court ruling.
Now the strategy is to have them deported, but even that process is moving slowly. Proceedings have begun against 10 people, but most of those cases are in the early stages, and procedural problems have delayed the others.
Canadian Justice Minister Alan Rock has been adamant that the government will pursue the cases as quickly as possible and has indicated that charges against two more suspected war criminals will be brought sometime next month.
Jewish Congress leaders give Rock credit for bringing the cases he has but contend that the country needs to be still more aggressive if it hopes to investigate all the remaining suspects _ possibly in the hundreds _ before they die.