Manuscript Collection MS COLL 0048A - Peter Rehak Papers

Identity area

Reference code

CA OTUTF MS COLL 0048A

Title

Peter Rehak Papers

Date(s)

  • 1944 - 2004 (Creation)

Level of description

Manuscript Collection

Extent and medium

11 boxes, 1.5 meters.

Context area

Name of creator

(1936-)

Biographical history

Peter Rehak is a Canadian journalist who has worked in North America and Europe in print, television and new media. For 18 years he was an Executive Producer of CTV Television Network’s investigative program W5. During Rehak’s term the network aired an episode about Imre Finta (1912-2003), accusing him of committing war crimes against Hungarian Jews during the Second World War when he was a police captain in the Royal Hungarian gendarmerie. Finta sued the network for slander. In crafting their defense, CTV lawyers and Rehak traveled in 1985 to Hungary, Israel and Vienna, recording witness testimonies. Finta had immigrated to Canada in 1951, becoming a successful restauranteur in downtown Toronto. He was the first and only person in Canada to be prosecuted for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity, charged with confinement, kidnapping, robbery, and manslaughter of 8, 617 Jews. After a lengthy criminal trial in the Ontario Supreme Court, a jury acquitted Finta on all counts. The acquittal was upheld by the Ontario Supreme Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada. Rehak collected materials relating to Finta intending to write a book but abandoned the project when Finta was acquitted.

Archival history

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

Gift of Peter Rehak, 2021

Content and structure area

Scope and content

Historical Context:
In 1989, Imre Finta gained notoriety in Canada as the country’s first person prosecuted under Canada’s new war crimes legislation. On the recommendation of the Deschênes Commission, the Criminal Code was amended in 1987 to authorize Canadian courts to try war criminals, including suspected Nazis, for crimes committed in other countries. After leaving Hungary, Finta was convicted in absentia by a Hungarian People’s Tribunal in 1948 and sentenced to five years forced labor. He was known to Canadian authorities since 1974 when Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal alerted them of Finta’s whereabouts. The highly publicized criminal trial followed two libel lawsuits involving Finta which represented mounting pressure on Ottawa to prosecute war criminals living in Canada. In 1982 the Toronto Sun published an article and editorial which stated that allegations of war crimes made by Sabina Citron — a Holocaust survivor and co-founder of the Canadian Holocaust Remembrance Association — against Finta were false. Citron filed a libel suit against the newspaper and Finta. In 1983 CTV’s W5 program aired an episode accusing Finta of having committed war crimes. Finta claimed he was merely a dispatcher and filed a libel lawsuit against CTV. The network maintained that what they said on air was true, and traveled to Israel, Hungary and Vienna to obtain evidence, as well as using evidence from the Citron case. Witness testimonies gathered by CTV and Finta’s poor health resulted in Finta withdrawing his libel suit against CTV and his defense in the Citron action. He was ordered to pay $32,000 to Citron and $100,000 to CTV for legal costs. Finta was unable to pay CTV, resulting in the seizure of his house. Following Finta’s criminal trial, the Government of Canada announced a dramatic change to their strategy regarding war criminals. It would now revoke citizenship from alleged war criminals rather than prosecuting them. Legal scholars have called the Finta case one of the most important cases ever decided by the Supreme Court of Canada.

Scope and Content:
Collection consists of legal documents pertaining to the Citron v. Sun and Finta v. CTV cases, including videotapes of witness testimonies gathered in Hungary, Israel and Vienna. Includes a videotape and transcript of the W5 episode over which Finta sued CTV, documents in English and Hungarian pertaining to Finta’s trial in absentia in Hungary, fragments and a draft of Peter Rehak’s unfinished book about Finta, as well as newspaper clippings and interviews Rehak conducted on microcassette. Also includes a subpoena sent to Rehak from Commissioner Jules Deschênes and the Sheriff’s Sale of Lands in the seizure of Finta’s house.

Contains Series:

  1. Materials related to Imre Finta’s lawsuits and Hungarian trial
  2. Peter Rehak’s Research on Imre Finta
  3. Peter Rehak’s unfinished book about Imre Finta

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No restrictions on access.

Material may be requested in person at the Fisher Library Reference Desk, or in advance using our online stack retrieval request form: https://fisher.library.utoronto.ca/stack-retrieval-form

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Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto

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