B. C. man not connected 'to war crimes'
Refugee Status Stands; Evidence against Josip Budimcic flawed, board rules
Published: Wednesday, November 26, 2008
The federal government lost a high-profile war crimes case yesterday after the Immigration and Refugee Board ruled the evidence tying a British Columbia man to atrocities in Croatia was seriously flawed.
IRB ruled that while Josip Budimcic had misrepresented and withheld material facts about his military service from Canadian immigration authorities, there was no reliable evidence he had committed war crimes.
“It's exactly what we asked the board to do in terms of a decision,” said his Vancouver lawyer, Dennis Mc-Crea. “He wanted to clear his name and I think this has done that.”
A resident of Salt Spring Island, where he is a popular handyman known as Joe Somebody, Mr. Budimcic was tried for war crimes by a Croatian court in 1995 — after he had already fled the country with his wife and children.
The Croatian trial, which was conducted without Mr. Budimcic ever being present, was based on the allegations of four former members of the Croatian army who described how they had surrendered to the Yugoslav forces in 1991.
They said their commanding officer had been executed on the spot and that they had been subjected to mock executions, tear gas and beatings, and that a second member of their group had also been killed. They identified Mr. Budimcic as having participated in the abuses. Mr. Budimcic was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison. When Canadian officials learned about the conviction in 1998, they applied to revoke Mr. Budimcic's refugee status on the grounds he had failed to mention his wartime military service on his immigration forms.
The hearings in Vancouver last December were held in public. Normally, such proceedings take place behind closed doors but the National Post argued they should be conducted in the open and Mr. Budimcic consented.
“It is unusual in the sense that most refugee hearings are held in secret and he [Mr. Budimcic] said, 'No, I want it in public and I'm happy to tell my story in public and have the evidence come out in public,'” Mr. McCrea said.
In his 56-page ruling, IRB Member Ross Pattee said the Croatian witnesses had given inconsistent statements. He also cast doubt on the objectivity of the judge who conducted the Croatian war crimes investigation, and said there were “anomalies” in the case as well as “troublesome” information about the impartiality of Croatian war crimes courts.
“The panel finds there were problems with the court process in Croatia, and specifically, there were significant problems with respect to in absentia trials,” Mr. Pattee wrote.
On the other hand, the IRB said Mr. Budimcic was a credible witness and believed his version of events — that he had briefly seen the prisoners on the day in question but had no role in what happened to them.
“The panel finds there is no evidence that the respondent was involved in the commission of any crimes, whether a war crime or a serious non-political crime on the day in question,” the ruling says.
“The panel further finds the respondent was neither a perpetrator, nor a conspirator. Furthermore, the panel finds that simply being at the scene does not amount to complicity.
“The respondent was at the scene for only a few minutes, and moved on shortly thereafter. The situation was beyond his control, and he could not have prevented what happened.”
The ruling means that the refugee status that Canada granted to Mr. Budimcic in 1995 stands. Mr. Pattee ruled that Mr. Budimcic was a genuine refugee because his wife was Serbian and there was evidence that mixed-marriage couples were at risk in Croatia.
The decision will likely be seen as a blow to the Ministry of Public Safety, which had been working on the case against Mr. Budimcic for a decade but called only two witnesses to testify at the immigration hearings, both former employees of the Canadian embassy in Belgrade.
All four alleged victims in Croatia had signed statements saying they would be willing to testify in Canada, but none was ever put on the witness stand.
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