It will be late into the fall before the army is able to completely cut ties with a Canadian Ranger who openly supported two far-right groups and called the prime minister a “treasonous bastard” on social media, the country’s top soldier tells CBC News.
Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre, commander of the Canadian Army, said Erik Myggland should be formally out of the service “within weeks” after the service struggled for a year to release him.
He said the army is unable to pursue specific disciplinary action against the reservist because both his remarks on social media and his involvement with the Three Percenter movement and the Soldiers of Odin took place on his own time.
“A reservist on part-time service is not subject to the code of service discipline while not on duty,” said Eyre.
“A reservist is only subject to the code of service discipline while undertaking duty. But to be to be very clear on this, we expect our individuals, whether they be full-timers or part-timers, to embrace the values of our organization. And those values are expressed through their conduct, whether on duty or off duty.”
I want to get these individuals who bring dishonor into our ranks out as quickly as possible. They have no place here.– Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre
But a military legal expert is taking issue with Eyre’s claim that the army’s hands were tied.
There are prohibitions against a military member criticizing the government buried within defence administrative orders and directives and in legislation — specifically Section 129 of the National Defence Act — that could form the basis of charges under certain circumstances, said retired lieutenant-colonel Rory Fowler.
Regardless of whether a soldier is on duty or being paid, there are “a variety of circumstances in which the Code of Service discipline would apply to a member of the reserve force” as long as the military can prove it has jurisdiction, said Fowler, who served as a military lawyer before moving to private practice.
Anti-government rhetoric could be considered prejudicial to good order and discipline in the ranks, he said.
The army launched a summary investigation after a CBC News investigation reported that the Canadian military counterintelligence branch interviewed Myggland about his affiliations but allowed him to continue serving.
Myggland was a prolific online supporter of the Three Percenter ideology — originally a U.S.-based movement built around gun ownership rights and survivalist training. The group claims not to be racist or to be associated with white supremacist organizations.
The Soldiers of Odin, meanwhile, is an anti-immigrant and white supremacist group founded in Finland five years ago. It has since spread to Europe and North America. Its first Canadian chapter was established in Gimli, Manitoba; after an initial backlash, the group has attempted to rebrand itself as a community organization.
Ranger group being investigated
CBC News has reached out repeatedly to Myggland but has not received a response.
The activities of counterintelligence officers — whose duties include monitoring internal threats to the Armed Forces — are not within the scope of the army, said Eyre. If the army’s probe uncovers wrongdoing or criminal activity, the case will be turned over immediately to military police, he added.
The four-person team running the army’s investigation will focus on the 4th Canadian Ranger Group, headquartered in Victoria, B.C. Its aim is to determine what the unit’s leadership knew and when, why no action was taken and whether there is a larger problem with the group, either culturally or administratively.
The “lag” in releasing Myggland was unacceptable, Eyre said. But he acknowledged the army is struggling to remove others who have “brought discredit to the force,” including those involved in sexual misconduct cases.
“I want to accelerate the release process,” he told CBC News. “I want to get these individuals who bring dishonor into our ranks out as quickly as possible. They have no place here.”
CBC News began an investigation of the 4th Ranger Group after the incident at Rideau Hall in early July. Corey Hurren, 46 — a member of the 4th Ranger Group — is accused of crashing his truck into the gates while armed.
Hurren faces multiple criminal charges, including one of making threats against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The prime minister was not at home at the time of the incident.
There is no evidence Hurren and Myggland knew each other. They belonged to separate Ranger patrols in different provinces.
The fact that they both appear to hold similar anti-government views is cause for concern, according to several experts in far-right extremism.
‘Pervasive and insidious’
Eyre said he’s also worried.
“We have a problem with far-right activity across the army,” he said. “Now, if we have one case, that is one case too many.
“Far-right activity and this hateful belief, hateful conduct, hateful behaviour, it’s pervasive and insidious in our society, and we’ve got to do everything we can to stop this toxicity from seeping into our ranks.”
The military has seen a growing number of cases of soldiers and sailors — mostly reservists — linked to extremist groups and virulent anti-government rhetoric.
Eyre said he’s determined to improve the army’s screening system and to “crush” that ideology in the ranks.
The army, he said, is supposed to be there for all citizens, regardless of their political beliefs, and it has no place for toxic language either online or in the real world.
“It is harmful on so many levels,” he said. “It erodes our trust between us, Canada’s army, and our population.”
Evan Balgord, executive director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, said better screening of those seeking to join both the regular and reserve forces would be an improvement. He cautions, however, that those with extreme beliefs tend not to advertise them during the interview process.
“There needs to be an understanding within the Armed Forces of how to identify people who believe in these ideologies,” said Balgord, adding the military should formalize the practice of scanning the social media accounts of those serving.
“Commanding officers need to occasionally be looking at the social media profiles of the individuals that are under their command and recognize the signs when they’re talking about hateful ideologies to flag things for investigation.”
Fowler said he believes today’s military leaders are alert to the social and political dangers of the current situation because they lived through the Somalia scandal of the 1990s and the allegations of racism and white supremacy which tainted the troubled peacekeeping mission.”We all remember what that was like,” said Fowler, who served for more than 25 years. “None of those people are going to think that it’s a good thing that there are people who have virulent political views in the Canadian Forces.”
Editor’s note: An unedited version of this story was published in error on Sept. 9 at 7:50 p.m. ET. This is the edited version.