Chief of Defence Staff Jonathan Vance responds to a question during a news conference Friday, June 26, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Chief of Defence Staff Jonathan Vance responds to a question during a news conference Friday, June 26, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Proud Boys confrontation was wake-up call about military racism, hate: Defence chief

The military has established new rules around hateful misconduct over the past year

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.”

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.”

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

racism

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Staff at Acropolis Manor, a Prince Rupert long-term health care facility in April 2020 where no cases of COVID-19 were reported until an outbreak on Jan. 19, 2021. As of Jan. 25th, 32 people associated with the residence have tested positive for the virus. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Staff at Acropolis Manor a Prince Rupert long term health care facility, take pride in their work place that no COVID-19 cases have been reported in the facility during the pandemic.This photo taken, April 20, from outside, looking through a window shows staff adhering to strict protocols and best practices to keep residents happy and healthy. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
COVID-19 numbers increase at Acropolis Manor – 32 infected

Prince Rupert man concerned about temp. staff from out of region working at long-term care facility

Ken Veldman vice president, public affairs and sustainability, at Prince Port Port Authority on Jan. 21 addressed local employers in an online presentation about a new community recruitment program to attract employees to Prince Rupert. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
New recruitment campaign to be launched in Prince Rupert

Web platform will use community collaboration to attract new employees to Prince Rupert

People skate on a lake in a city park in Montreal, Sunday, January 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
The end of hugs: How COVID-19 has changed daily life a year after Canada’s 1st case

Today marks the one year anniversary of COVID-19 landing in Canada

Wet’suwet’en supporters and Coastal GasLink opponents continue to protest outside the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, February 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
‘We’re still in it’: Wet’suwet’en push forward on rights recognition

The 670-km Coastal GasLink pipeline was approved by B.C. and 20 elected First Nations councils on its path

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Employers might be able to require COVID-19 vaccination from employees: B.C. lawyer

‘An employer must make the case’ using expert science, explains lawyer David Mardiros

Dr. Penny Ballem, a former deputy health minister, discusses her role in leading B.C.’s COVID-19 vaccination program, at the B.C. legislature, Jan. 22, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. holds steady with 407 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday

14 deaths, no new outbreaks in the health care system

Jonathon Muzychka and Dean Reber are wanted on Canada-wide warrants. (Courtesy of Victoria Police Department)
Convicted killer, robber at large after failing to return to facility: Victoria police

Dean Reber, 60, and Jonathon Muzychka, 43, may be together

B.C. Premier John Horgan listens during a postelection news conference in Vancouver on Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
30% of B.C. recovery benefit applications held up in manual review

The province says 150 staff have been reassigned to help with manually reviewing applications

Adam Dergazarian, bottom center, pays his respect for Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, in front of a mural painted by artist Louie Sloe Palsino, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Kobe Bryant’s presence remains strong a year after his death

Tuesday marks the grim anniversary of the crash that took their lives

Surrey RCMP are investigating after a pedestrian was struck and killed at 183 Street and Highway 10 Friday night. (File photo)
The Brucejack mine is 65 km north of Stewart in northwestern B.C. (Pretivm Photo)
B.C. mine executives see bright gleam in post-COVID future

Low carbon drives demand for copper, steelmaking coal

In this Dec. 18, 2020 photo, pipes to be used for the Keystone XL pipeline are stored in a field near Dorchester, Neb.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Chris Machian /Omaha World-Herald via AP
Canadians divided over Keystone pipeline, despite U.S. president’s permit pullback

Two-thirds of Canadians think Biden’s decision was a “bad thing” for Alberta

A woman wearing a protective face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 walks past a mural in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, Dec. 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
5 big lessons experts say Canada should learn from COVID-19

‘What should be done to reduce the harms the next time a virus arises?’ Disease control experts answer

A Vancouver Police Department patch is seen on an officer’s uniform as she makes a phone call. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver man calls 911 to report his own stabbing, leading to arrest: police

Officers located the suspect a few blocks away. He was holding a bloody knife.

Most Read