A scathing new report on racism in the Canadian Armed Forces says the military is not doing enough to detect and prevent white supremacists and other violent extremists from infiltrating its ranks.
The report, released Monday by Defence Minister Anita Anand, also takes the military to task for not acting on dozens of previous studies and reviews on racism in the ranks over the past two decades.
The report comes after a yearlong review by a panel of retired Armed Forces members, and follows a spate of incidents linking some military personnel with violent extremism and hate groups, including white supremacists and neo-Nazis.
It also coincides with concerns about a growing disconnect between the makeup of Canada’s military, whose ranks are primarily white men, and the rest of the country’s population.
White men account for 71 per cent of Canadian military members but only 39 per cent of the country’s civilian workforce. The report notes Indigenous Peoples, visible minorities and women are significantly under-represented in Canada’s armed forces.
The panel in its report describes the suspected presence of extremists in the military as a “pressing moral, social and operational issue,” with such members representing a threat to unit cohesion and Canadians’ trust in the institution.
It found despite adopting a zero-tolerance approach, efforts to detect extremists were “siloed and inefficient” and extremists themselves were more adept at avoiding detection.
“The need for education and training for leaders at all levels of the defence team was highlighted repeatedly during the advisory panel’s consultations,” the racism report reads.
“Funding, expertise and human resources are currently not adequate to address the imperative that every leader become the first line of defence in ensuring that members of these groups stay out of or leave the defence team.”
Anand said Monday the government has earmarked more than $200 million to help change the military’s culture, but she did not lay out any specific new measures.
Gen. Wayne Eyre, chief of the defence staff, said the military needs to find a balance between privacy concerns and remaining vigilant when it comes to things like monitoring members’ social media posts.
“The real challenge we face with many of these organizations is they tend to morph once they’re illuminated, once the spotlight goes on them,” Eyre added during a virtual news conference with Anand and members of the review panel.
“We have to be very, very vigilant and continue to educate ourselves as to what these signs and symbols are.”
The issue of right-wing extremism in the Canadian military first burst into the public domain in 2017 following an incident in Halifax in which a group of sailors associated with the Proud Boys disrupted an Indigenous ceremony.
A military intelligence report later linked dozens of Armed Forces members to extremist groups, and warned that such organizations were actively recruiting or otherwise trying to infiltrate the military to gain training, experience and equipment.
In one high-profile case, a former reservist from Manitoba who was a member of a neo-Nazi group was sentenced in the United States to nine years in prison for what investigators called a violent plot to trigger a “race war.”
The panel was critical of what they saw as the Armed Forces’ failure to act on hundreds of previous recommendations and reports designed to address some of these issues.
“Over the past 20 years, reports from 41 inquiries, panels, boards, climate surveys and reviews have generated 258 recommendations to address diversity, inclusion, respect and professional conduct,” retired major Sandra Perron said during the news conference.
“When this advisory panel tried to identify the progress on these recommendations, it became immediately clear that many of them were poorly implemented, shelved or even discarded.”
Anand acknowledged those failures, and suggested the time for action has finally come, noting the establishment of several working groups and other bodies as well as new monitoring and reporting mechanisms to make things happen.
That includes not only addressing racism in the ranks, but also retired Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour’s forthcoming report on military sexual misconduct and a separate report last year on reforming the Armed Forces’ justice system.
“As minister of national defence and a racialized woman, I am strongly committed to building institutions where Canadians from all backgrounds are included, welcomed and empowered,” she said.
—Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press