Military police investigate dozens of complaints of racism in the Canadian Army

Military police and civilian law enforcement have investigated up to 70 cases of alleged hateful conduct and racist attitudes within the Canadian Army. The reviews have resulted in the release of as 20 soldiers and come after the country's top military commander ordered troops last fall to report racism when they witnessed it.

Cases concentrated in junior ranks; expert calls for fuller picture of issue across entire military

Gen. Wayne Eyre, right, a brigadier-general at the time of this photo, speaks with Lt.-Gen. Paul Wynnyk, commander of the Canadian Army, in the Wainwright Garrison training area in Wainwright, Alta., in 2016. Eyre, now acting chief of the defence staff, ordered a broad crackdown on hate and racism in the army after a series of high-profile incidents and investigations. (Master Cpl. Malcolm Byers/DND Combat Camera)

Military police and civilian law enforcement have investigated up to 70 cases of alleged hateful conduct and racist attitudes within the Canadian Army since a crackdown began in September last year, CBC News has learned.

A briefing prepared for the army's acting commander last winter and obtained under access to information legislation shows 115 cases were catalogued up until that time, with 57 of them being investigated by military authorities.

Figures updated to the end of August — and released to CBC News — show an additional 28 allegations. Of those, 13 were deemed serious enough to warrant a police investigation. 

The former top army commander and current acting chief of the defence staff, Gen. Wayne Eyre, ordered a broad crackdown after a series of high-profile incidents and investigations.

Review looked at new and historic cases

He issued a 25-page directive that requires soldiers to report to their superiors when they witness or become aware of racism and hateful conduct. If they fail to do so, there could be serious consequences, with Eyre saying they intend to "hold our members accountable for their actions."

The majority of the hateful conduct cases in the army assessment were reported early this year and in the latter half of 2020 after Eyre issued his order. The scope of the statistical review goes back to 2019. Some of the actual incidents, however, go back as far as 1997.

The general's tough line came following the case of a now-former Canadian Ranger who was involved with two well-known hate groups and who referred to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as a "treasonous bastard."

Just last week, another ex-reservist, Manitoban Patrik Mathews, was sentenced to nine years in a U.S. prison for his role in what investigators called a violent plot to trigger a "race war" in the United States through the right-wing extremist group The Base.

8 'potential' associations with a hate group

Significantly, eight of the first 115 cases involve a "potential association with a hate group." It's unclear how many of the newer batch fall into that category.

The vast majority of the cases (88 per cent) involved junior members and non-commissioned officers, including master corporals and sergeants.

Law enforcement agents in the U.S. found videos of Patrik Mathews, including one where he's wearing a gas mask, saying violent, anti-Semitic and racist things. (U.S. Attorney detention memo)

Only 20 soldiers out of the overall total of 143 cases have been released or given notice of release by the military.

Roughly another quarter of the cases are the subject of an administrative review, which the defence department said in a statement will determine the individuals' "suitability for continued service" within the Canadian Armed Forces.

Number of incidents 'relatively low,' presentation says

Slightly less than 10 per cent of the cases were the subject of the separate system of disciplinary action. About 20 per cent of the cases were considered unfounded complaints.

The officers who prepared the presentation for the army council, a meeting of senior leaders, were cautiously optimistic about the findings.

"Overall number of incidents appear relatively low, though the true scope of the problem will not be understood for some time," said the Feb. 26, 2021, briefing. "Incidents appear to be primarily occurring among newer and junior members."

That aspect of the report is very troubling, said retired lieutenant-general Guy Thibault, who now heads the Conference of Defence Associations Institute.

"This is clearly a trend we don't want to see picking up in the Canadian Armed Forces," said Thibault, whose last job within the military was as vice-chief of the defence staff.

'What is the culture that has been built up?'

Barbara Perry, an expert on far-right groups at Ontario Tech University, said the finding deserves closer scrutiny.

"Something is happening," she said. "I mean, it comes back to the culture. Right? What is the culture that has been built up? We've heard a lot of that around sexual assault. I think we need to have more of those conversations around, you know, race and ethnicity, and religion, all of those other pieces."

The presentation and statistical analysis are focused strictly on the army. The air force and navy last year also issued their own reporting directives for those who witnessed hateful conduct.

The defence department was asked whether the other branches had conducted a similar deep-dive review, but officials were unable to say conclusively whether such research was being done. 

Concurrent reports needed, Perry says

Perry said such research is crucial to gain a better understanding of the problem. She noted one of the more notorious recent cases involved a naval reservist in Calgary who had been a member of the neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen Division.

"We need a fuller picture," she said. "I think that each of the branches should be ... developing annual reports that are parallel, so that we have a sense of what's happening  across the Armed Forces. It's not enough just to have this snapshot of one branch."

Criminologist Barbara Perry, pictured in 2019, says she believes the number of hateful incidents in the army is underrepresented. (CBC)

Perry said she agrees with the presentation authors when they say the depth and scope of the problem in the army has not been fully revealed.

She said she believes the numbers are an underrepresentation of the problem.


Murray Brewster

Senior reporter, defence and security

Murray Brewster is senior defence writer for CBC News, based in Ottawa. He has covered the Canadian military and foreign policy from Parliament Hill for over a decade. Among other assignments, he spent a total of 15 months on the ground covering the Afghan war for The Canadian Press. Prior to that, he covered defence issues and politics for CP in Nova Scotia for 11 years and was bureau chief for Standard Broadcast News in Ottawa.

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