5 military members face review over confrontation at Mi'kmaq protest
Five Canadian Armed Forces members who appeared in an online video of a confrontation at an Indigenous protest in Halifax on Canada Day will be removed from duty and training while the military conducts an investigation into their conduct, according to the nation’s top soldier.
In a statement to CTV News, chief of defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance called the men’s actions “deplorable,” adding “their future in the military is certainly in doubt.”
The clash took place at an Indigenous protest that involved a spiritual ceremony, which was held in opposition to Canada’s 150th birthday celebration. The event was meant to symbolize the mistreatment of the Mi'kmaq people under Halifax’s controversial founder Edward Cornwallis.
Video posted to Facebook shows the men, dressed in matching black and yellow polo-style shirts, approaching the Indigenous demonstrators and debating their claim to the land on which the protest was held.
“This was Mi’Kmaq territory. This is now Canada. This is Halifax, Nova Scotia,” said one man who arrived holding what appeared to be a Canadian Red Ensign flag. “This is a British colony.”
The group identified themselves as members of the “Proud Boys,” a U.S.-based ultra-conservative fraternity-like group that believes in “reinstating a spirit of Western chauvinism during an age of globalism and multiculturalism.”
“I detest any action by a Canadian Armed Forces member that is intended to show disrespect towards the very people and cultures we value in Canada,” said Vance in the statement.
“We are the nation's protectors, and any member of the Canadian Armed Forces who is not prepared to be the defender we need them to be will face severe consequences, including release from the forces.”
Maritime Forces Atlantic Commander Rear Adm. John Newton confirmed the men were actively serving in various branches of the Canadian Armed Forces, earlier on Tuesday.
Newton also reaffirmed the Canadian Forces’ stated commitment to upholding diversity and inclusion of all cultures and ethnicities within its ranks. He said the men caught on the video “crossed a line.”
“Their personal beliefs, religious, political, or whether its white supremacy, whatever the Proud Boys represent, is not a shared value of the Canadian Armed Forces,” he told reporters on Tuesday. “They have just transgressed their personal lives into public life. For that, they will have to face the consequences.”
Newton said military members associating with organizations including “everything from outlaw motorcycle gangs, to white supremacy groups, to fringe political parties or groups” are a serious security threat to Canada’s military due to the increased risk of blackmail to gain access to military secrets.
He said this will be among the factors considered in the review of the members seen to disrupt the Indigenous ceremony on Canada Day.
“I can tell you in the short term, a number of them will not be able to continue to do the duties with the information and type of material they handle until we get the full administrative measures in hand,” Newton said.
Vance said he “expects better” of those who serve under his command, saying in his statement “I apologize to our indigenous peoples for the behaviour of a few, who certainly do not represent the broader group of proud women and men who serve our country.”
Striking an unusually personal chord, he also spoke of how he feels Canada’s military has broadened the cultural sensitivity of its members -- including his own.
“I came from Halifax. I grew up in this community. I lived with racism in my neighbourhood. I have tried very hard in my career to . . . make bridges with the black community and the Aboriginal community,” Newton said.
His hope is that more Canadians will come to see the Canadian Armed Forces as a diverse and welcoming career path.
“They see a very white, male organization. We are working very hard to change that, to be a more diverse, more gender balanced military culture to all of Canada’s new immigrants and historic populations,” Newton said.
Dalhousie University native studies professor Patricia Doyle-Bedwell applauded Newton for offering an apology on behalf of his young sailors. She suggests the incident could actually have a positive impact if top military brass were to reach out and engage in a face-to-face dialogue with Indigenous leaders.
“I think the military has made the first move, and they need to make another move. They have to bring themselves forward to our people and talk to us about what happened,” she told CTV News Channel. “We need to make sure that we can approach the military, and the military can approach us.”
An earlier version of this story reported that six men face a military review into their conduct. The number has been updated to five, based on a correction from the Canadian Armed Forces.