skip navigation

R. v. Imre Finta

Court Supreme Court of Canada, Canada
Case number 23023, 23097
Decision title Judgment
Decision date 24 March 1994
  • State of Canada
  • Imre Finta
  • Canadian Holocaust Remembrance Association
  • League for Human Rights of B’Nai brith Canada
  • Canadian Jewish Congress
  • InterAmicus
Categories Crimes against humanity, War crimes
Keywords crimes against humanity, Murder, war crimes
Other countries involved
  • Hungary
back to top


Hungary joined the Axis powers during World War II, effectively bringing the Hungarian police and the Gendarmerie, a paramilitary police unit, under the control and direction of the German SS. Imre Finta, originally a Hungarian national, was an officer and later a captain in the Hungarian Gendarmerie. In 1944, he was dispatched to Szeged to implement the Baky Order, a decree introduced by the Hungarian Ministry of the Interior calling for the isolation, exporpriation, ghettoization, concentration, entrainment and eventual deportation of all Hungarian Jews. In connection with this order, Finta was allegedly responsible for the detention of 8 617 Hungarian Jews in brickyard, forcibly stripping them of their valuables and deporting them to concentration camps under appalling conditions.

Under new Canadian war crimes legislation, Finta (a Canadian national and resident since 1956) was brought before the Toronto court to stand trial for eight counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. He was acquitted by a jury and this decision was upheld by a majority of the Court of Appeal of Ontario. The present decision was rendered by the Supreme Court of Canada and constituted the final appeal in the case against Finta. By a narrow margin of 4:3, the appeal was dismissed, as Finta did not possess the necessary mens rea for war crimes and crimes against humanity and the Baky Order, on which he relied, did not appear as manifestly unlawful at the time of its enactment.

back to top

Procedural history

In 1947, a Hungarian Court convicted the Accused, Imre Finta, in absentia of crimes against the people for his conduct as Gendarmerie captain during the spring of 1944 in relation to the purge of Szeged’s Jewish population. His punishment in Hungary became barred by legal statute and later benefited from a general amnesty.

In 1951, Finta immigrated to Canada and in 1956 he became a Canadian citizen.

On 1 December 1987, Finta was indicted in Canada for unlawful confinement, robbery, kidnapping and manslaughter of 8 617 Jews between 16 may and 30 June 1944 in Szeged, Hungary contrary to the Canadian Criminal Code existing at the time, and constituting crimes against humanity and war crimes pursuant to section 7(3.71) of the current Criminal Code.

Proceedings were not barred by the prior Hungarian trial and conviction, as the latter were found to be null under Canadian law and the amnesty was not synonymous with a pardon and therefore did not preclude new proceedings.

On 25 May 1990, the accused was acquitted of all eight charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity by a Toronto court jury trial.

In April 1992, a majority of the Court of Appeal of Ontario refused to grant permission to take official appeal proceedings against the acquittal verdict.

An appeal and a cross-appeal was lodged with the Supreme Court of Canada.

back to top

Related developments

Imre Finta died in Canada in December 2003.

back to top

Legally relevant facts

The Accused, Imre Finta, was commissioned as an officer in the Royal Hungarian Gendarmerie in 1939, an armed paramilitary force police force serving the Hungarian government. By 1942, the Accused had risen to the rank of captain (p. 32).

In 1944, the Accused was posted to Szeged as commander of the investigative subdivision of the Gerndarmerie. Following occupation by the Germans, the Hungarian police and the Gendarmerie came under the direct command of the German SS (p. 32).

On 7 April 1944, the Hungarian Ministry of the Interior passed what is known as the Baky Order calling for the isolation, exporpriation, ghettoization, concentration, entrainment and eventual deportation of all Hungarian Jews (p. 33).

The Accused is charged with the commission of crimes in the carrying out of the Baky Order, in particular the detention of 8 617 Jewish persons in a brickyard, who were forcibly stripped of their veluables and deported to concentration camps (p. 3).

back to top

Core legal questions

  • Does a Canadian court have jurisdiction to try a Hungarian national for crimes committed in Hungary?
  • What is the mens rea requirement for the conduct of an accused to amount to a crime against humanity or a war crime?
  • Are superior orders a defence excluding criminal responsibility?

back to top

Specific legal rules and provisions

  • Sections 7(3.71), (3.74) and (3.76) and 11 of the Criminal Code.
  • Sections 7 and 11(g) of the Charter of Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

back to top

Court's holding and analysis

Pursuant to Section 7(3.71) of the 1927 Criminal Code, Canadian courts have jurisdiction to try individuals living in Canada for crimes committed on foreign soil when the crime alleged constitutes a war crime or a crime against humanity (p. 7).

The mens rea requirements for crimes against humanity and war crimes require that the accused was aware of or was wilfully blind to facts or circumstances, which would bring his or her acts within the definition of a crime against humanity or war crime. It is not necessary to establish that the accused knew that his or her acts were inhumane or that they constituted war cimes. It is sufficient to establish that the acts viewed by a reasonable person in the position of the accused constituted crimes against humanity or war crimes (p. 9). Justices La Forest, L’Heureux-Dubè and McLachlin dissented, holding that in almost (if not every) case the domestic definition of the underlying offence will capture the requisite mens rea for the war crime or crime against humanity as well. There is no requirement that the accused knew that the conduct was inhumane or a war crime in either a legal or a moral sense. The actus reus elements are intended to differentiate the domestic offence from its international counterpart (p. 18).

Superior orders are a defence to criminal responsibility and available to members of the military or police forces in prosecutions for war crimes or crimes against humanity, provided that the accused had no moral choice as to whether to follow the orders. Reliance on the defence is excluded where the  orders were manifestly unlawful (p. 9). 

Both the appeal and the cross-appeal were dismissed by the Court by a narrow margin of 4:3.

back to top

Further analysis

back to top

Instruments cited

back to top

Additional materials

back to top

Social media links