Defence Minister Pledges Action on Racists in Military

Sept. 2, 2020 – By STEVE ARNOLD

Canada’s Minister of National Defence is promising to drive white supremacists and racists out of the country’s armed forces.

Harjit Sajjan made the commitment Aug. 26 in a Zoom meeting with leaders of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC).

The Honourable Harjit Sajjan, Minister of National Defence

The meeting followed the unmasking of a Royal Canadian Navy reservist in Calgary with a long history of involvement in white supremacy groups.

In a news release, Los Angeles-based FSWC executive director Rabbi Meyer May said he was impressed by Sajjan’s “clear and unequivocal commitment to bringing about structural changes and reforms in the armed forces to ensure there will be no tolerance for white supremacist and extremist members as well as no room for any forms of hate.”

Jaime Kirzner-Roberts, director of the Canadian FSWC’s Campaign Against Antisemitism, added: “A clear message must be sent to all Canadians, including our diverse communities within and outside the armed forces, that white supremacists will not be tolerated under any circumstances in our military.”

In an e-mailed statement, a spokesperson for Sajjan said, “There is no place for hate in Canada, and membership in organizations that promote hate goes against everything that Canadians value, and what the Canadian Armed Forces stand for.”

Sajjan said he had a “productive” conversation with the FSWC, and wanted to assure Canadians that the Forces treats these matters “with the utmost seriousness.”

May and Kirzner-Roberts proposed creating a body to investigate potential cases of white supremacist activity in the military; requiring allegations to be sent immediately to military police or the RCMP, and to be subject only to administrative/disciplinary action once criminal charges have been ruled out; and ensuring that anyone found guilty of participating in white supremacist activity is released immediately from the military, in addition to facing applicable criminal charges.

The meeting came one month after FSWC sent a letter to Sajjan demanding an investigation into the Royal Canadian Navy’s decision to reinstate a Calgary-based sailor with neo-Nazi ties, and two weeks after meeting with the commander of the Navy.

In the latter meeting Vice-Admiral Art McDonald promised a “command-level” review of the Forces’ decision to readmit the sailor to ensure the Navy handled the matter “appropriately and in accordance with the latest departmental guidance on hateful conduct.”

The Canadian Anti-Hate Network (of which CJR publisher Bernie Farber is chairman) and the FSWC demanded action after Leading Seaman Boris Mihajlovic was revealed to be a member of an online neo-Nazi hate group.

Concern intensified after Mihajlovic was accused of trying to sell military-grade weapons to another hate group. There is no evidence a deal was ever completed and he was later reinstated after claiming he was rehabilitated and no longer held racist views.

In 2019, Kurt Phillips, now a director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, was among the first to raise the alarm about the alleged arms deal.

“The big concern here is the Forces and their reaction to this,” Phillips said in an interview. “Our concern now is, what is the Canadian military doing about this?”

Mihajlovic’s racist activities were first revealed by the alnertaive media site Unicorn Riot and by CBC in December. CBC reported his hate group activities included 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 CBC 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.

For Phillips, words like that are a good start, but have to matched with action to show Mihajlovic has truly recanted his former views – such as a sincere apology to the communities he offended and helping law enforcement identify and deal with other groups and extremists.

Separately, Patrik Mathews, a former Forces combat engineer, has been in custody in Maryland since January, along with two other alleged co-conspirators. They face trial on a variety of charges relating to their alleged desire to trigger a race war in the United States.

Mathews vanished from Beausejour, Man., last year following media reports alleging he was a recruiter for a white-supremacist group called The Base.

*See related story today, B’nai Brith Hails Justice for Alleged Neo-Nazi.

Prioritize Victims of Hate When Confronting Extremism in the Military

July 29, 2020 – By ELIZABETH MOORE

On July 19, the Canadian Armed Forces announced they are taking an important and, as critics have noted, a long overdue step to more effectively deal with hateful conduct in their ranks. The new orders finally define “hateful conduct,” make reporting incidents mandatory, and will include ongoing training, entrance screenings, and incident tracking.

As Maj.-Gen. Marc Gagne of the Forces’ chief of military personnel’s office put it, “the idea is basically as soon as you join, it’s crystal clear, and we’re going to keep reinforcing through education and training as you move through the ranks and as you assume more responsibility.”

While there is reason to be optimistic about the potential for positive change in the future, the military is clearly still struggling when it comes to handling cases of hate group members in their midst.

The U.S.-based media collective Unicorn Riot reported that Leading Seaman Boris Mihajlovic returned to active duty aboard HMCS Tecumseh on July 15, 2020, following an investigation into his ties to racist extremist groups. Mihajlovic claims he is reformed and has not been involved with hate groups since 2017.

In a video by Mihajlovic’s Commanding Officer, Joseph Banke, sailors were called upon “to find a way ahead together.” Banke emphasized his belief that rehabilitation should be chosen over retribution, concluding that “we need to build forward together, we need to rehabilitate together, we are going to support this member together.”

This approach would perhaps be warranted if the person in question was passively consuming hateful content online but otherwise not deeply entrenched. But that is not the case with Mihajlovic. He was a moderator on the now-defunct racist forum Iron March, claimed to be connected with Blood and Honour, a hate group that was classified as a terrorist organization by the Canadian government last year, and he tried to carry out illegal arms deals.

While it is wholly possible to leave racist extremist groups and change one’s worldview, doing so within the Armed Forces carries additional responsibilities, particularly when internet posts discussing the sale of “handguns, assault rifles, grenades and grenade launchers,” come to the public’s attention. At this time, it appears neither Mihajlovic nor the leadership at HMCS Tecumseh have issued an apology. No explanation of the ways Mihajlovic has grown or changed has been released, despite Banke’s acknowledgment that some sailors have “felt very victimized by this.”

It is unfortunate that at a time the Armed Forces are attempting to address both extremism and systemic racism, Banke seems to be asking those who felt victimized to do the emotional heavy lifting of supporting a former extremist without a proper explanation or support in return.

This is likely not an isolated incident. A 2018 military intelligence report identified 30 service members who belonged to hate groups or otherwise engaged in hateful conduct. In November, it was reported that 16 of those identified were allowed to remain within the Forces after being warned or disciplined.

Gagne noted that part of the problem was that the military took “a reaction kind of approach” instead of being proactive in addressing such matters. However, in order to ensure that sensitive and challenging situations like Mihajlovic’s are dealt with fairly and effectively, the Forces needs to move beyond the reactive/proactive dichotomy to embrace a holistic approach that remains ever mindful of past and current incidents of extremism in their ranks.

To illustrate the range of events affecting the current situation, former Master Corporal Patrik Mathews is facing U.S. charges related to possessing and transporting a firearm and ammunition while plotting to trigger a race war with members of the violent white supremacist group, The Base. Meanwhile, military police are investigating a racist meme targeting Black people that was circulated in Quebec last month.

If a person who engaged in hateful conduct is allowed to stay in uniform after a case has been investigated, the wellbeing of those who felt victimized must be prioritized over that person’s desire to resume their duties. No one should feel that they must literally soldier on without understanding how certain decisions were reached or why, especially since hateful conduct continues to occur.

It is unfortunate that those who need to issue apologies or explanations have more power and latitude about whether to provide them than those who feel such words are necessary. And it is these imbalances that must be addressed for the military to truly be able to “rehabilitate together.”


Elizabeth Moore
Elizabeth Moore

Twenty-five years ago, Elizabeth Moore left The Heritage Front, Canada’s largest hate group. Since then, she has become an anti-hate educator, writer, and social justice advocate. She is currently a member of the Enhancing Social Justice Education Coordinating Committee and Parents for Peace’s Community Network.