Aug. 19, 2020 – By Steve Arnold
A racist has been unmasked in Canada’s military, prompting new calls for the Armed Forces to get tough with members who don’t represent the country’s values.
The Canadian Anti-Hate Network (whose Chair is CJR publisher Bernie Farber) and the Canadian Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center want action after a Royal Canadian Navy reservist in Calgary was revealed to be a member of an online neo-Nazi hate group.
Initial anger grew even hotter after Leading Seaman Boris Mihajlovic was accused of trying to sell military-grade weapons to another hate group. There is no evidence a deal was ever completed and Mihajlovic was later reinstated to the navy after claiming he has been rehabilitated and no longer holds racist views.
In 2019 Kurt Phillips, now a director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, was among the first to raise an alarm about the alleged arms deal. Mihajlovic was later identified by alternative media site Unicorn Riot.
“(Mihajlovic) is a person who kind of stood out for me,” Phillips said in an interview. “The big concern here is the Forces and their reaction to this. Our concern now is, what is the Canadian military doing about this?”
Phillips said the Canadian Armed Forces have a long-established pattern of side-stepping such issues by slapping the wrists of members caught making racist statements or being involved in demonstrations.
“It’s in the nature of institutions like this to just want controversy to go away,” he said. “They will circle their wagons and say what they need to.”
That’s what he said happened in 2017 when five Canadian sailors were identified as part of a crowd that disrupted a Native protest in a park named for Lord Edward Cornwallis. A founder of Halifax, the British officer is also the author of a policy of genocide against the area’s Indigenous population.
Four of the sailors faced a period of probation but were returned to active duty. The fifth left the military.
“The military seems to treat these incidents as an exercise in public relations,” he said. “It’s a case of saying the right things but not taking the extra step.”
In the most recent case, leaders of FSWC met recently with Vice-Admiral Art McDonald, commander of the Royal Canadian Navy, who promised a “command-level review” of the investigation into the allegations and the decision to keep Mihajlovic in the Forces.
In its new release following that meeting, FSWC said it asked the admiral to “ensure that (Mihajlovic) faces justice for his participation in neo-Nazi terrorist organization Blood & Honour; for his efforts to foment a ‘race war’ against Jews and others, and for his attempts to offer for sale military-grade weaponry to other white supremacists.”
FSWC said McDonald also told the group that the Navy is committed to combating discrimination, racism and antisemitism within its ranks and to reflecting the values of Canadians by promoting diversity and tolerance.
Mihajlovic’s racist activities were revealed by Unicorn Riot and CBC in December. CBC reported his hate group activities include serving as an administrator of the now-defunct Iron March forum, a neo-Nazi website. He was also involved with Blood & Honour for at least four years and its armed branch, Combat 18, a group the Canadian government identified last summer as a terrorist organization.
Mihajlovic told the public broadcaster he hasn’t been involved with such groups since Iron March shut down in 2017 and now he realizes he was wrong and rejects racist views.
“I want people to know that I’m a very different person than I was,” he said. “I just want people to know that the people in these groups really need mental help and therapy.”
He said his military experience, as well as a course he took at the University of Calgary in 2017, made him question his radical beliefs.
“During my time in the military, I met people from different races and cultures and realized I was wrong,” he said. “I realized I was hating people without any reason. I believed in a really elitist world view.”
For Phillips, words like that are a good start, but more is needed to show Mihajlovic has truly recanted his former views – actions like a sincere apology to the communities he offended and helping law enforcement identify and deal with other groups and extremists.
The military itself has work to work, including reforming a culture that attracts people with right-wing views. A frequent theme for such people, Phillips added, is to use the military to gain training in weapons and tactics for what they believe is a coming race war.
Mihajlovic mouthed those very words in some of the hate group postings identified as his by CBC.
“They pay you to teach you the methods you need to destroy them,” he once wrote, saying his rationale for serving in the military was to gain combat experience for an eventual “race war.”
Phillips added an important step for Canada would be to restore Section 13 of the federal Human Rights Code. That’s the section that allowed individuals to pursue groups espousing hate speech.
The section was repealed by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government on the grounds it restricted free expression.
Canadian law enforcement also needs to make better use of Criminal Code provisions against hate speech, Phillips said.
Under the current system, provincial attorneys general must sign off on turning an allegation into a hate crime – something too many have been reluctant to do for fear of being accused of constraining free speech.
“We really have to press our elected leaders to make better use of the laws we already have,” Phillips said.