The commander of the Canadian army says he plans to issue a special order that will give individual army units across the country “explicit direction” on how to deal with soldiers suspected of hateful conduct and extremism.
Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre told CBC News he also will reinforce the message personally by convening a meeting of all commanding officers and regimental sergeant majors — 450 mid-level leaders — to discuss the problem of far-right infiltration of the military.
The action comes after a CBC News investigation of a Canadian Ranger unit uncovered how Erik Myggland, a British Columbia reservist who openly supported two far-right groups, was allowed to continue serving even after he had been identified by military counterintelligence and interviewed as a potential threat.
The directive also comes as prosecutors in the U.S. pursue firearms charges against former Canadian army reservist Patrik Mathews, who is accused of recruiting for a white-supremacist organization in the States.
One anti-racism organization, The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center, said it is pleased to see such steps being taken — but questions whether the navy, the air force and other branches of the military are prepared to follow suit.
Eyre, who acknowledged last week that the army has a growing problem of right-wing extremism, also reiterated his determination to “crush” hateful ideology and acts in the ranks.
‘It sickens me’
“The legacy of the Canadian Army was in a large part built during the Second World War, [when] we went to war to fight Nazism, to fight hateful conduct, to fight this ideology of hate,” he told CBC News.
“Our legacy is built on those who went before us. I lost a great-uncle in war and it sickens me to see this happen in our society. It sickens me even more to see those who want to join our ranks that hold Nazism as a way of life.”
Eyre said that, with the upcoming order, he intends “to lay out my expectations for the actions that need to be taken, the proactive actions, the decisiveness that we have to deal with these cases.
“There is absolutely no place in the Canadian Army for those who hold hateful beliefs and express these beliefs through hateful behaviour. If you have those types of beliefs — get out. We don’t want you. You bring discredit and dishonour upon our organization.”
The navy is in the middle of its own command review related to a Calgary reservist, who was identified as in a separate CBC News investigation last year as Moonlord, one of the former administrators of Iron March, a notorious neo-Nazi hate forum that gave rise to the terror group Atomwaffen Division. The site has since closed down.
But Leading Seaman Boris Mihajlovic was readmitted to his unit after commanders claimed he was no longer a threat.
Jaime Kirzner-Roberts, the director of The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center’s campaign against anti-Semitism, said she would like to know if the navy and the air force plan to issue to similar directives.
“This is the first time that we have seen some real positive momentum with respect to addressing the issue of extremist and white supremacist activity in the military,” she told CBC News. “We’re heartened to see this momentum, this process of momentum beginning with respect to the Army, and we are hopeful that this momentum will continue in the Navy and in the Air Force and other and other places within our Armed Forces.”
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has assured the organization that he is formulating a plan to systematically address hateful conduct and racism.
The question of whether military commanders have enough legal authority — either through the National Defence Act or the Criminal Code of Canada — to address the growing problem is up for debate.
Many of the cases to date have been dealt with quietly through the military’s administrative and disciplinary process — but Kirzner-Roberts said it’s clear from the Myggland case that a “safe space” has been created for racism and intolerance to fester in the ranks.
“It is incumbent on our Armed Forces to be reckoning with that, and putting an end to that safe space,” she said.