Maclean’s tracked down an accused war criminal Ottawa couldn’t find

Just how hard are they looking?

Manca Juvan/Novus Select

Dragan Djuric still remembers the precise date: July 27, 2011. As the clock approached midnight in Serbia, his cellphone rang. “It was a friend from Canada,” he recalls. “He told me: ‘Dragan, Dragan, please go on the Internet. Your picture is on the news. They are looking for you.’ ”

Djuric thought his friend was joking. He wasn’t.

From his computer screen on the other side of the Atlantic, Djuric soon saw what thousands already had: his name and mug shot featured on a new, FBI-style “Wanted” list aimed at finding and deporting 30 suspected war criminals hiding in Canada. Posted alongside his colour photograph were his date of birth (Dec. 8, 1970), his last known city of residence (Kitchener, Ont.), and a sweeping press release from the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). Stephen Harper’s government, the headline proclaimed, “will not tolerate war criminals in our communities.”

“It’s a big mistake,” Djuric says now, smoking a cigarette. “I am not in Canada.” In fact, he says he hasn’t lived here since 2003, when two federal employees joined him on his flight back to Belgrade, via Milan. “They know I was deported,” he insists. “They gave me my passport and tell me: ‘Good luck, bye.’ ”

The CBSA will not discuss individual files, other than the scant information already released online. But it appears Djuric’s story is accurate. Questioned by Maclean’s about his version of events, the Canada Border Services Agency responded by suddenly deleting his photo from the list—2½ years after it first appeared. “Mr. Djuric’s case has been reviewed and his personal information will be removed from its ‘Wanted’ website,” the agency said in a written statement. “The CBSA cannot comment any further on its operations.”

If Canadian escorts did drop him off in Serbia more than a decade ago, it’s hard to imagine how Djuric landed on a list of illegal immigrants wanted for deportation. But his case raises a much larger question: How hard is the federal government actually looking for these war-crimes fugitives?

Maclean’s found Dragan Djuric. Why couldn’t Canadian authorities?

Foreigners who commit atrocities abroad are not welcome in Canada and, every year, the Immigration and Refugee Board issues dozens of departure orders against people deemed to be complicit in crimes against humanity. Some vanish—choosing a life on the run over a life outside Canada—and when Ottawa first launched its “Wanted” website, officials chose to publicize 30 men whose trails had grown especially cold. Jason Kenney, the immigration minister at the time, said each of them had “gone off the grid,” and “conventional investigatory tactics” had failed to turn up any leads.

Yet a Maclean’s investigation (a basic search through publicly available court records, and follow-up phone calls to friends and relatives) not only tracked down one of the missing men, but cast doubt on Ottawa’s claim that the CBSA has done all it can to locate them. Nobody contacted for this article—including the Ontario family that sponsored Djuric’s original visit to Canada—has ever been approached by authorities. “When we saw the list, we thought that, sooner or later, someone is going to knock on our door and ask questions about him,” one relative says. “But it never happened.”

Djuric is now 43 years old, his hair much greyer than the young man in the mug shot. He says he operated a small company after leaving Canada, importing and exporting construction materials and other goods between Serbia and Slovenia. But when Ottawa posted his image in the summer of 2011—and Serbian media picked up the story—he lost all his contracts. “I go in a coffee bar and everybody is staring at newspapers, a big picture and name: ‘War criminal stays in Canada,’ ” he says. “They see my name and they tell me: ‘Dragan, sorry, my company is not working with your company.’ ”

Now living in Celje, Slovenia, Djuric agreed to speak to Maclean’s because he was desperate to have his face erased from the webpage. He insists he is not a war criminal—and, more important, that he’s not on the lam in Canada. “You put it in newspapers, on TV, on CBSA, on everything,” he says. “ ‘That person is not in Canada.’ ”

For Harper’s tough-on-crime Conservatives, the Wanted website is as much a public-relations campaign as a law-enforcement tool. Tips have led authorities to nearly a dozen suspected war criminals, with each new arrest trumpeted in a fresh press release. The list has since expanded to include other categories of non-citizen fugitives, including foreigners wanted for deportation because they committed serious crimes in Canada. Last month, in a news release marking the 50th arrest triggered by the list, the CBSA’s vice-president of operations described the program as “a continued source of pride for this agency.”

But in Dragan Djuric’s case, officials have little to be proud of. One of their most wanted—if he even deserved that label in the first place—was literally hiding in plain sight.

Djuric’s arrival in Canada wasn’t a proud moment for the feds, either. He lied his way into the country, even though an immigration officer suspected he was doing just that.

It was late 1999, a few months after NATO fighter jets annihilated Yugoslavian targets and brought an end to the Kosovo War. Living in a Serbian village near Pancevo, a city badly damaged by the air strikes, Djuric asked Ottawa for permission to visit a cousin in Hamilton so he could attend a baptism.

“He never visited before,” a Citizenship and Immigration officer wrote in FOSS, the department’s central database. “Why now[?]” (The notes, normally confidential, were disclosed as part of Djuric’s eventual appeal to Federal Court.) “Due to the extremely bad situation in [Yugoslavia] and in that area at the moment, I have concerns about his incentive to return there if allowed to enter,” the officer continued. “Could be looking for more durable solutions for his future family situation. Too risky, refused.”

Djuric promptly reapplied for a two-week visitor visa, telling the immigration department he was planning to get married on Christmas Day, 1999, and that his trek to Ontario “would be his last trip as a single man.” He provided proof of employment, details of the Serbian property he owned, and a promise to return home in time for the wedding ceremony.

Apparently, that was evidence enough. “Well, the family property is certainly very big,” an immigration officer later wrote. “Could be well-off family. As he swears he will return for his wedding, will risk it.”

The officer’s original hunch was correct. Djuric had no intention of going back to the former Yugoslavia and, days after landing in Toronto, he filed a refugee claim.

In his application, Djuric admitted to being a member of the Serbian Volunteer Guard, a notorious paramilitary unit commonly known as Arkan’s Tigers. Led by Zeljko Raznatovic—a wealthy, ruthless Serb who was later indicted for war crimes at The Hague, but assassinated before he ever faced trial—the Tigers were responsible for widespread ethnic cleansing during the Bosnian and Croatian conflicts of the early 1990s. By all accounts, the Tigers raped, robbed and slaughtered scores of civilians.

Canada refuses to be a safe haven for war criminals, a long-standing policy enshrined in law. But how Ottawa enforces that policy depends on the specific case. Although the government does have the legal authority to prosecute a war-crimes suspect who arrives in Canada, it’s a costly option, especially since the evidence must be strong enough to withstand the scrutiny of our Western court system. To date, only two people in Canada have been tried for foreign war crimes, with both prosecutions linked to the Rwandan genocide. (The first accused, Désiré Munyaneza, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 2009; the other, Jacques Mungwarere, was recently acquitted, even though the presiding judge said he is “probably guilty” of participating in civilian massacres.)

In the vast majority of cases, the government relies on immigration law, not criminal law, to deal with war-crimes suspects—by denying them entry in the first place, and attempting to deport them if they still manage to get here. According to the latest annual stats (from April 1, 2010, to March 31, 2011), the Canada Border Services Agency investigated 680 refugee claimants for potential complicity in crimes against humanity; of those, the CBSA intervened in 88 cases, urging the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) to deny their claims on the grounds of Canada’s no-safe-haven policy.

Although the onus is on the government to produce evidence, the burden of proof is not nearly as high as for a criminal trial. The IRB must find “serious reasons for considering” that a claimant committed foreign atrocities, a legal threshold that is far lower than both the criminal standard (“beyond a reasonable doubt”) and the civil standard (“on a balance of probabilities”).

Simply put, the government does not need to prove that a specific claimant pulled a trigger or dug a mass grave. For immigration purposes, a person can be found complicit if: he was a member of an organization with a “limited, brutal purpose”; if he handed over prisoners to be tortured; or even if he merely shared information with known human rights abusers. As the Federal Court of Appeal ruled in a precedent-setting decision, complicity rests “on the existence of a shared common purpose and the knowledge that all parties in question may have of it.”

In Djuric’s case, the Immigration and Refugee Board agreed with the government, concluding there were “serious reasons for considering” he was complicit in war crimes or crimes against humanity. The written judgment, released in late 2002, remains confidential, but Djuric’s connection to Arkan’s Tigers was clearly enough to quash his hope of staying in Canada.

Renting a Kitchener apartment at the time, Djuric appealed his deportation order in Federal Court. Though he never filed the necessary paperwork, leading to an eventual dismissal, he did type a one-page letter, asking the court for an opportunity to lead “a quiet life” without the “stress that someone will knock on my door in the middle of the night.”

“Give me a chance to find a lawyer who will represent me,” he wrote. “I would be a happiest man in the whole world if you just give me that chance for peace in my life.”

Djuric claims he was a telecommunications specialist and never killed anyone during his service with Arkan’s Tigers. “No, no,” he says now, when asked if he is a war criminal. “I don’t kill nobody, but I see a couple people kill persons. It’s war, no?”

Again, Djuric has never been charged with a war-crimes offence; he was deemed inadmissible to Canada according to the IRB’s legal threshold, not because of a conviction in court. But when it comes to his inclusion on the Wanted list, his conduct during the Yugoslav Wars is essentially a footnote. War criminal or not, there is no dispute about what happened next: He was refused asylum in Canada, somehow vanished from Ottawa’s radar, and declared a fugitive.

And Maclean’s, not federal agents, was able to track him down.

In numerous interviews from Slovenia, Djuric described himself as the victim of a massive misunderstanding. He says he was arrested by the CBSA in early November 2003, seven months after his Federal Court case was dismissed. After a few days in custody, he claims, he was on a commercial jet back to Belgrade, accompanied by two Canadian escorts who agreed not to handcuff him as long as he behaved. “I left Canada in 2003,” he says. “They know.”

Asked for documentation that confirms his story—a plane ticket, perhaps—Djuric says he has none. “I have no stamp in my passport,” he says. “I no have nothing. They said: ‘Everything is in the computer and you have no problem.’ ”

One thing, though, is certain: Djuric is furious at the Canadian government for destroying his reputation. Friends and relatives shunned him after seeing his mug shot on the web. His family home in Serbia was badly vandalized. And, even though the CBSA has suddenly removed his face from its website, the rest of the Internet has forever branded him a war criminal. “Every time I check, it’s my picture more,” he says. “I am here in Slovenia, broke. I have no papers, nothing. I lose everything after that information.”

The CBSA will not discuss what it specifically did to try to find Dragan Djuric—or any other fugitive listed on the site. A spokesman would only say that “in some cases, the CBSA has exhausted all investigative leads” and that enlisting the public’s help is the only available option. But, in Djuric’s case, at least, there were clearly other leads to follow. In fact, when Djuric learned a Maclean’s reporter was asking about him in Canada, he seized the chance to prove he wasn’t hiding here. “I don’t know what else to do,” he says.

If nothing else, his mug shot has finally vanished from the webpage, quietly deleted two days after Christmas. But, like the few dozen faces that remain, a full explanation is still missing.




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Maclean’s tracked down an accused war criminal Ottawa couldn’t find

  1. Incompetence is the hallmark of this govt. In everything apparently.

    • True, they are remarkably adept at ineptitude. I wonder how they’ll spin this after they fire some underling?

      • Well they’ve never explained why we turned all those people over to the Afghans to be tortured, and then to the Americans for the same thing.

        Haven’t explained how we even contemplated leaving our translators behind…..!

        And they seem to be tossing people willy nilly out of Canada…

        So I dunno if they’ll ever even admit to screwing up this guy.

        • Why’d we turn Afghan prisoners over to Afghani officials?

          Hmmm……

          Why would we take hired translators to Canada?

          Why stop there?
          Why not take the truck drivers and cleaners?

          So, I dunno, maybe do some head shaking.

        • “….if he handed over prisoners to be tortured; or even if he merely shared information with known human rights abusers.”

          Indeed it’s just as well we don’t apply those standards to ourselves.

          • Ahh but Canada is never wrong, we never make mistakes, we never behave in a cruel and inhumane way….the rest of the world is wrong calling us on it. We get to lecture them, not the other way around.

        • > And they seem to be tossing people willy nilly out of Canada.

          Only the survivors of death squads. Never the torturers or murderers. They’re too scary, unlike mothers with children.

          • Very true.

            And thumbs up for the scarlet letter ‘A’

      • They aren’t nearly as skilled as the LPC.

        • This comment was deleted.

          • You obviously need an English lesson.
            Add a history class to that list, also.

    • Bingo. CF loses money and buys junk at inflated prices, CFIA doesn’t inspect meat, Posties are losing money like water in a sieve, RCMP B&E homes and do not charge their own for sexual harassment and never did get Rizzuto. MPs, senators and others tax cheating, raiding the kitty while fostering buddy bailouts and inflated contracts…. 4500 AANDC can’t audit 600 reserves but know how to waste…

      Got money for bombs, defective F35s and rusty subs, but vets, disable and retired can be tread on. Even devalue their pensions, saving and everyones include with lower value money and inflation.

      Not much in Ottawa works for the people any more. If we had politcians with morals and integrity, they would not be mortgaging our, our kids and grand kids futures with more debt.

      Ottawa and much of provincial governments is about presenting the illusion of governments importance, when in fact its all about lifing your money in taxes and hidden tax inflation most people don’t realize exist. We even tax inflate food and clothing, as gotta get the poor…..

      We live in a statism state of corruption. Too much wasteful government for our own good.

      • I do not share or support Daves economic babble.

        • I do not share or support Emiliy’s babble.

    • When you comment, the exact opposite is true.

      • Emilyone: Maclean’s resident tchotchke.

  2. If Harper and his cabinet want to trumpet for something, how about a nice goodbye melody to usher himself out of office and Justin Trudeau in? Now that I would dance to!

    • You won’t be dancing.

  3. -
    To the Harper Hate mongers,

    Djuric admitted to being a member of the Serbian Volunteer Guard, a notorious paramilitary unit commonly known as Arkan’s Tigers.

    Harper’s government would seem to be extracting a price for that.

    Arkan’s Tiger victims paid a far heavier price than Djuric is paying for being part of that group and the victims are probably quite happy that the Harper and crew made life hard for this fellow. I would say a small piece of justice has been served.

    You say Harper is inept.
    I suggest it may have been intentional and well done.

    What seems to be your problem? (other than support for Arkan’s Tigers)

    Criticize the Trudeau’s for turning a blind eye to Quebec corruption.

    • What you are ignorant of is that there were plenty of non-Serb paramilitaries who were torturing and murdering Serbs the entire time and the mainstream media ignored this. It even would publish pictures of brutally killed Serbs and claim they were non-Serbs.
      CNN, for instance, showed the funeral of 2 Serbian children, but carefully cropped out the Serbian Orthodox priest officiating (as well as Christian symbols) and claimed they were Muslim children. The original footage was first shown on French television stations.
      There were also Serbian farm families slaughtered by Croats which was claimed to be Croats killed by Serbs. Only later, for this, was a small, buried retraction. But plenty of other cases they showed known Serbs killed and said they were non-Serbs killed by Serbs.
      So Serbian victims were used against Serbs.
      Additionally, your Canadian soldiers who were stationed in Sarajevo throughout the war (as well as soldiers of other nationalities) witnessed Bosnian Muslims staging attacks there.
      James R. Davis wrote in his book “The Sharp End: A Canadian Soldier’s Story” about the Muslims staging these attacks for PR purposes. There was even children killed on the street below the building where Canadian soldiers were and they later traced it to coming from Muslim positions. Their observers had also said there had been no Serb mortars fired at the time.

      There was much that was set up in the war and there was a group called “Seve” in Sarajevo which assassinated other Muslims but Serbs were blamed.
      There are many Muslims who tortured and killed Serbs in that war but they were allowed to settle in U.S. and Canada and are living here today. Only a few cases recently have been in the news about them due to their home country Bosnia and Herzegovina prosecuting, to a small degree, those who tortured and murdered Serbs. For instance, in the U.S. a woman named Azra Basic who was with the Croatian army but was stationed in Bosnia and running torture camps for civilian Serbs, was wanted for torturing and killing in three camps there during the spring/summer of 1992.

      The ICTY (Hague Court) didn’t want her and the U.S. allowed her in and to live here, but when BiH decided to go after her is why she got in trouble.
      And this woman, like other Muslim and Croat had blood on their hands and participated directly in the killings and rapes.

      But this guy didn’t seem to at all. Further, there are many Serbs who think Arkan was a double agent anyways, and some of the things about him may be exaggerated myths and tales than what was actually going on in the fog of war.

      • You could very well be correct.

        My complaint was about the people who hate Harper for no other reason than he is NOT a left wing nut job.

        Harper just happens to be the least corrupt Prime Minister we have had in a long time.

        The Trudeau and Liberal governments and for that matter any Prime Minister we have had from Quebec has been turning a blind eye to all their corruption and these Liberal Trolls refuse to acknowledge that Quebec is corrupt and always trying to rip off the rest of the country.

        The Liberal and NDP trolls hate Harper and I refuse to let them spew their hate unanswered.

        They pick any reason they can think of irregardless of facts to spew their hate.

        • There is no such word as “irregardless.” Just use regardless.

          • -
            Thank you Len.
            You are correct.
            Irregardless is considered a “non proper” word. It is a small thing, but small improvements are always good. Regardless, I shall be more careful in the future.

            It was not picked up by spell check because spell check as well as many dictionaries, accept it.

          • I often have used the word irregardless – it has a stronger meaning then does regardless. IMHO.

        • We have a ways to go before the level of corruption in the Harper government will be ascertained with certainty. Right now he isn’t looking to clever as the Captain of the good ship “Senator-gate”

          • -
            Hare,

            You Hate Harper

            You spew hate.

            This so called scandal was about taxpayer money being returned. I think we can all agree Duffy cheated. A wealthy conservative was embarrassed for that and reason made sure the taxpayers were reimbursed.

            When are the Liberal supporters going to return all the money the Liberal politicians have cheated from Canadian taxpayers?

            I can guess NEVER as Liberals are never embarrassed for cheating the public.

            Intense Hate does not promote good health. Seek help.

          • 1: Okay explain what is hateful about my comment? HINT: not agreeing with you isn’t hateful.

            2: Senate Scandal was a little more than returning taxpayer’s money – The RCMP suggests fraud is the least of the additional issues that needs to be addressed.

            3: If you are referring to the Sponsorship Scandal – The Gomery Commission never came up with any such conclusion. The Liberal Party apparently never benefited monetarily from any of that money. Other benefits maybe.

            4: You make the classic mistake of assuming that because I dislike the criminal activity of the CPoC I must be a Liberal and be blind to their faults too. you like your other rightwing friends are once more wrong. I dislike all the parties because at their very core they are corruption enabling machines that subvert true representative democracy.

            One of us may have been spewing but it wasn’t me

          • -
            No Hairball,

            I disagree.

            Your statements seem all about Hate for Harper.
            And you are angry because you have been caught.

          • Again what did I say that was hateful…? You do know what hateful means don’t you?

          • Throwing the word hate around is just juvenile and does nothing to help out Harper – it is a lame defense.

          • You are demonstrating that you are just as partisan are those you accuse of hating Harper.

          • Whatever – but – PM Harper is not one of those who profited nor has he skirted any rules to obtain financial gains for himself.

          • Whatever? I’m being called hateful by a guy who doesn’t even know what it means and whose grasp of English seems tenuous at best and it has what to do with you?

            As for your Harper issues:
            He has skirted rules to remain in power – prorogation illustrates that.
            Given the standards he expected of Paul Martin then he has skirted resigning based on his own standards.
            As to financial gain, we will have to wait until someone else has access to the books for the real scoop on that and also see where Harper ends up after he is done politics.

        • Yes there may have been Croat and Bosnian war crimes recently released CIA Bosnia documents estimate up to 10%, but the preponderance, 90%, were committed by Serbs (organized and systematic). On the other hand, what does other group committing some crimes, have to do with the crimes of the Arkan Tigers? They along with other Serb Paramilitaries first ethnically cleansed 1/3 of Croatia, and then 70% of Bosnia with the goal of creating a greater Serbia by whatever means necessary including genocide.

          • A link wold have been nice to those documents.
            The CIA also said that Sadam had weapons of mass destruction and have said many things about the capabilities of many that they wish to kill too. A lot of this stuff has been shown to be lies and just grounds for killing someone they don’t like.

            You started of well, but then claimed “but they did more.”

            Each victim of any war crime should be given satisfaction for what they suffered. Each individual perpetrator of each crime is responsible and should be brought to account. Any Serb, Croat or Bosnian who executed a civilian is guilty of a crime and it is immaterial who did the most as all that matters is that each individual crime is a crime that needs justice. I’m pretty sure that those in your 10% and their relatives don’t feel any less aggrieved because their community was in the minority in terms of the ethnicity of the victims.

        • The Serbs and the Croations hold a solid and long term hatred one to the other. Canadians, in general, do not have that temperament. Whether our government made a mistake or not – killing other people is not what we normally do and those, who came to our country, carry with them hatred which we don’t need. This man did horrific criminal acts – and was quitely taken out, if you will. McCleans and the CBC are the media which brings sanity and honesty to Canada.

      • To put it bluntly, the whole Balkans is a dog’s breakfast.

    • If it was intentionally done, why the hasty withdrawal when notified about it?
      If the government was really interested in serving justice, then they should have tried him here as they are entitled and obligated to do.
      No they messed up and frankly never gave a damn about the victims. The list is a PR stunt to fool the base that they give a damn about law and order.

  4. The man lied to get into Canada in the first place. This not the way to emigrate. What goes round comes round. You reap what you sow.

  5. Someone explained to me one of our co-workers had hacked people to death in Africa. He also said he knew this because his own relatives were hacked to death by him. I can’t even imagine working with someone who had hacked my relatives to death. I guess ‘war criminals’ are rampant in Canada, not being prosecuted or deported.

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