OTTAWA — The Department of National Defence has revealed that more than a dozen members of the Canadian Armed Forces linked to hateful actions or groups have been warned, disciplined or ordered to take counselling, but allowed to remain in uniform.
The revelation follows months of questions about the fate of 30 active service members identified in a military-intelligence report last year as belonging to a hate group or having otherwise made discriminatory or racist statements. Six more have since been added to the list.
While the Defence Department previously reported that seven of those members were no longer in the military, it had been unable or unwilling to provide information on the others, sparking concerns from anti-hate advocates that officials were not taking the issue seriously.
On Monday, department spokesman Daniel Le Bouthillier said while officials could not comment on individual cases, 16 members have been subject to a range of measures that include “counselling, warnings and disciplinary measures.”
“Some of the other cases are ongoing,” he said, adding: “Simply put, in any instance where information indicates discriminatory behaviour by a Canadian Armed Forces member, action is taken.”
The Defence Department’s response did not sit well with Bernie Farber, chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, who has demanded military officials provide more information and ultimately do more to curb right-wing extremism and hate in the ranks.
“Some of the hate groups to which these soldiers were affiliated were violent,” Farber said.
“I feel little comfort that a few warnings and some counselling seems to be the only response. I wonder if these servicemen were found to be (Islamic State group) terrorists if they would have been given what amounts to a slap on the wrist?”
While the military maintains incidents of Forces members associating with right-wing extremism or white supremacy are isolated, concerns about their presence has been heightened in recent years thanks to the military-intelligence report and several high-profile incidents.
Those incidents include several sailors associated with the far-right Proud Boys group disrupting a Mi’kmaq ceremony in Halifax in 2017 and media reports of other members associating with neo-Nazi groups such as the Atomwaffen Division.
One Manitoba army reservist accused of being a neo-Nazi, Master Cpl. Patrik Mathews, remains unaccounted for nearly three months after he was first reported missing. When he disappeared, Mathews was reportedly being investigated by military-intelligence officers and the RCMP.
The Canadian Anti-Hate Network also says leaked emails from a now-defunct online forum for fascists and neo-Nazis suggest another Canadian Armed Forces’ member associated with such extremist movements tried selling guns to an individual in Bosnia in 2017.
Meanwhile, new documents obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act show military officials initially wanted to charge and kick out an officer cadet who belonged to the Proud Boys group in 2018 before reversing course.
While not part of the group that disrupted the Mi’kmaq ceremony, the cadet wore the Proud Boys’ black-and-gold polo shirt in a military mess around the same time and told fellow service members, among other things, that a woman’s role was to be subservient to her husband.
Military leaders found those comments and his association with a group that promotes hatred, misogyny, discrimination and harassment violated the Forces’ values and ethics and demonstrated a lack of judgment and leadership qualities.
The cadet was charged with conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline, but military prosecutors eventually opted not to pursue the case, saying there was no reasonable chance of conviction because of his charter right to freedom of thought, belief and expression.
And while officials initially moved to remove him from the Forces, with one calling his actions unacceptable and a discredit to the military “in the eyes of the Canadian public,” he was allowed to stay after admitting a “failure in judgment” and disassociating himself from the group.
“Although it is his right to be part of this group, he should avoid wearing the Proud Boys-style polo shirt in a military complex and his opinions regarding this subject should be kept to himself,” Col. Paul Fuller of the director of military careers’ administration wrote on July 13, 2018.
“I have considered … that he is no longer a member of the Proud Boys (and) as such, I am willing to support in part his (commanding officer’s) recommendation and to give the member one chance to demonstrate that he possesses the qualities that are essential to all CAF members.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 18, 2019.
Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press