The outgoing commander of Canada’s military says he first realized the Canadian Armed Forces had a real problem with hate and racism three years ago, when navy sailors identifying themselves as “Proud Boys” confronted Indigenous protesters in Halifax.

Captured on video, the confrontation in July 2017 propelled the right-wing group, which officials are considering adding to Canada's list of terrorist organizations, into the public consciousness.

Gen. Jonathan Vance says it also embarrassed the military — and served as a wake-up call about the threat that hate and racism pose to the Armed Forces.

“Before that, I was quite confident that our stance on values was strong and well articulated,” Vance told The Canadian Press on Wednesday. “I did not see this as a dangerous phenomenon, but one that needed to be dealt with. Proud Boys, that got me.”

Vance was speaking during one of his last media interviews before handing command of the Canadian Armed Forces to Vice-Admiral Art McDonald on Thursday, more than five years after he first took over as Canada’s chief of the defence staff.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last month that one of McDonald’s top priorities will be rooting extremism and systemic racism from the military, which has been battered by revelations of some members’ links to right-wing groups and hate.

The Proud Boys incident involved men dressed in the right-wing group’s trademark black and yellow polo shirts interrupting a Mi’kmaq ceremony in front of a statue of Edward Cornwallis. The ceremony was protesting the former Nova Scotia governor’s treatment of Indigenous people.

Recordings afterward showed the men, one of carrying the Red Ensign, the flag that preceded the Maple Leaf, engaged in a tense debate with the protesters before they left. The Department of National Defence later acknowledged that some of the Proud Boys were members of the Royal Canadian Navy.

“It was not a comical, farcical incident,” Vance said on Wednesday. “It was, to me, sinister.”

Proud Boys confrontation was wake-up call about #military #racism, hate: Defence chief. #ProudBoys #CdnPoli #WhiteSupremacists

That’s because the confrontation in Halifax came amid a resurgence in xenophobia and violent extremism in Canada and other parts of the world, which Vance described as a serious threat due to its ability to undermine trust and openness.

“Xenophobia is dangerous,” he said. “Anything that increases instability … is a worry because instability can turn into open conflict. And xenophobia can be attributed to the beginning of many conflicts, many wars and many tragedies.”

The Proud Boys incident was also troubling, Vance said, because it revealed serious gaps in how the military viewed — let alone dealt with — right-wing ideology and hate.

The military has established new rules around hateful misconduct over the past year, while the commanders of the Canadian Army, Royal Canadian Air Force and navy have all issued their own orders and directives aimed at eliminating such behaviour.

Yet some have suggested the military was slow to act, noting the new rules and orders only come after years of media reports and public incidents linking members with right-wing extremism, white supremacy and neo-Nazism.

Those include one Army reservist who was an alleged recruiter for a neo-Nazi group and is now in custody on firearms charges in the U.S., and a Canadian Ranger arrested in July after allegedly driving a truck through the gates of Rideau Hall with a loaded weapon.

The 4th Canadian Ranger Group is now being investigated for alleged links to right-wing groups, while military intelligence reports identified dozens of other active service members as belonging to hate groups or having made racist or discriminatory statements.

Those reports warned that some right-wing groups in particular might try to infiltrate the military to advance their own agendas, but they also suggested such incidents and individuals were isolated — a message that seemed to be repeated by military commanders.

On Wednesday, however, Vance painted the issue as one of loyalty — to both Canada and the military.

“The military must be — and always be, down to the individual — overtly loyal to the state, and overtly loyal to the values and job it must do for the state,” he said.

“And then by definition, there is no room for disloyalty. And there's no room at all for those who have ulterior motives, or who would somehow through their belief system, damage, morale and operational output. And so it is an ongoing effort.”

Vance's comments came the same day top officers across the whole of the U.S. military sent an unprecedented letter to their troops that the riot on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6 represented an attack on the American constitution — and reminding them that they all swore an oath to protect the constitution. The U.S. military is investigating whether any of its personnel were among those who participated in the attack.

Vance defended the pace of the Canadian military’s efforts and response, saying it needed to engage in a deliberate approach to define the scope of the problem and identify appropriate responses before communicating it to the Armed Forces as a whole.

And he says all of that initiative can be traced back to the Proud Boys incident.

“That's when we started to really take a look at this,” he said. “The effort to go through the development of that policy, the issuing of that policy in a very timely way, we did it as fast as any policy is developed. And I think a good one.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 13, 2021.

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It's about time the higher echelons of government and the armed forces are speaking about this. Also good to see the Liberals doing something about it.

I'm reminded of the (true) story of some orphaned male elephants in Africa whose mothers had been killed by poachers. They formed a "pack" that rampaged its way through life, killing other animals that had never been a threat to elephants. Park rangers were distressed yet stumped. Then someone thought to truck in two huge male tuskers ... and within no time, they had reined in the young ones and taught them what it is to be a male elephant. I fear the PBs (we could call them the peanut butters so as not to publicly give their name airtime) are young fellows who have never been taught what it is to be a man.

While I find this whole thing worrisome and I'd love to see big, fast action, it's probably good that they're going about this with some care and deliberation. Sure, I hate the Proud Boys' guts, but witch hunts are, to say the least, prone to abuses, and to backfiring.

What few commenters in this field care to explore,let alone acknowledge is that organized, national militarism is the natural evolution of tribalism that has morphed, along with population growth and sophisticated nation-state technology into powerful machines dedicated to systematic slaughter.

The militant mind set values above all the un-thinking cohesiveness of trained and directed mob behaviour. Self de fence and survival dictate a robotic, brainwashed mental process - kill or be killed. Apparently it is easily distorted by manipulators to create sub-sets which convince themselves or can be convinced that they, and they alone know the "truth" and are "psyched" up to defend that "truth".

IN the U.S. Armed forces a continuous internal war is being waged between the indoctrinated holy warriors of righteousness and the defenders of the constitutionally mandated civil servants of the Army. Even in Canada, such righteousness rears its racist, privileged head.

Service people are all too prone to making invidious distinctions between themselves and "civilians". This mind set has been transferred to the ranks of law enforcement officers. The brotherhood (make no mistake, no female is qualified) is uniquely empowered to exercise command and control over all mere civilians. If they ever thought of themselves as simple members of humanity, indoctrination into the military brotherhood unleashes in too many of them false notions of superiority.

Indeed we don't talk about the consequences on the individual soldier of the military discipline mind set. Nor do we choose to remember that whenever democracy is subverted, as it was in Germany during the thirties....both the military and the police were easily converted into the gestapo that trampled civil liberties and went on to persecute not only the Jewish people, but socialists, communists, progressives in general, and gay people in particular.

It's a difficult problem to tackle, but recent Defund the Police movements, following continued waves of police violence, should make us all realize that something has been invisibly morphing in our society.

We need to de-militarize in general, and acknowledge that the history of police states is not a pretty one. Of course its racist, misogynist, and given to a bullying mindset. Of course, not all soldiers or police officers endorse those attitudes......but to some extent, they must all deal with those realities.
I suspect the way most men in uniform do so is to ignore or minimize those negative tendencies inside the force. Which is why it takes civil society itself so long to see the connection between proud boy attitudes and the military brotherhood you speak of.