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A man wears a Proud Boy vest
The Canadian Forces has been receiving accolades for its tweet pushing back against the far-right extremist group the Proud Boys.
As the Reuters news agency has reported, Twitter users have flooded the #ProudBoys hashtag on social media with images of LGBTQ2 pride, pushing aside posts made by neo-Nazis and white supremacists using the tag. The Reuters report, as well as those of other news outlets around the world including the BBC, used a supportive Canadian Forces tweet to emphasize the point.
The Proud Boys was founded in the U.S. in the 2016 by Canadian Gavin McInnes. They have denied any link to organized right-wing or racist organizations. But the Southern Poverty Law Center, a U.S. organization that tracks activities of the far-right and Neo-Nazi groups, noted that rank-and-file Proud Boys and leaders regularly spout white nationalist slogans and maintain affiliations with known extremists. They are known for anti-Muslim and misogynistic views, the organization added.
Proud Boys have also been confronting anti-racism protesters in a number of U.S. cities, often using violence. In October 2019, two Proud Boys were each sentenced to four years in prison for their assaults on protesters in New York.
In November 2018, Canadian military police listed the Proud Boys in their report titled White Supremacy, Hate Groups and Racism in the Canadian Armed Forces .
It described the Proud Boys as an extremist group that “uses confrontational and at times violent tactics to promote its goals.” The group, police added, were openly Islamophobic and misogynistic.
The Canadian Forces message pushing back against the far right organization received 36,000 retweets.
Not everyone, however, is impressed. A number of people on social media have pointed out that the Canadian Forces is being somewhat hypocritical as it not only had its own Proud Boys in the ranks but it is dealing with other far-right extremists serving in the military.
The incident being referred to involved serving members of the Canadian Forces, who were Proud Boys members, disrupting a protest of Indigenous activities in Halifax on July 1, 2017.
Three of the Proud Boys were members of the Royal Canadian Navy while the fourth was a member of the Canadian Army. One of the Proud Boys members, who had already given his notice to leave the military, did so.
The Canadian Forces investigated. But no charges were laid. There were no demotions. By Aug. 31 of that year the individuals were back at their regular duties, although they were on probation, which the military maintained was a tough punishment.
The Proud Boys organization, however, didn’t see it that way and instead celebrated its members’ returning to their jobs in the military. The far right group taunted the Canadian Forces on its lax response. “We win, our brothers the Halifax 5 are returning to active military duty with no charges, let the SJW (social justice warriors) tears pour,” the organization stated on social media. “Proud of our boys.”
Asked to comment about concerns the Canadian Forces was being hypocritical with its tweet calling out the Proud Boys, the Department of National Defence noted in an email to this newspaper that, “The Proud Boys incident was investigated and dealt with accordingly.”
“The tweet being referred-to demonstrates our respect for members from the LGBTQ2+ communities and embodies the principle of inclusivity, which is key to success in everything we do,” the department added.
The Canadian Forces has indeed done a good job of tweeting and putting out messages against racism and hate. Recently new policies were announced on social media to crack down on racists and far right members in the ranks.
But the military’s critics point out that so far it’s all talk and little action. And it has been that way for years.
In August, the CBC revealed the Canadian military’s counterintelligence branch was aware of two reservists who were involved in far-right organizations four years ago but the individuals were allowed to keep serving. Posts and photos describing support for two far-right groups — including one reference to Prime Minister Trudeau as a “treasonous bastard” — were featured prominently in one of the military reservist’s social media accounts, the news organization reported.
In 2016 a military supervisor in Ottawa pinned up at headquarters a racist poster featuring the N-word and a caricature of two Black men carrying spears. A Black employee filed a complaint after the same supervisor posted a second image in the same kitchen area at work, this time a racist joke referencing Hitler and Jews, the CBC reported.
But the DND didn’t view the images as being racist and rejected the complaint.
It was only after CBC published the image several months ago of the racist poster featuring the N-word, that the department retreated somewhat and a new investigation was ordered into the matter. Even now, there are those inside the DND and Canadian Forces who suggest the racist poster was simply an inappropriate joke and no big deal.
In 2018 this newspaper reported on a white Canadian Forces reservist who targeted Black soldiers with racial abuse, challenging them to fights and taunting them with racial slurs. The reservist was counselled about his actions but was allowed to stay in the military because he claimed his actions were related to feeling stressed out by his military training.
Vice-Adm. Art McDonald tweeted on June 18 of this year that racism, especially the hateful conduct aimed at Blacks and Indigenous staff, occurs daily in the Royal Canadian Navy. “We all need to listen and then act to eliminate it,” McDonald said on social media.
But his message was gutted July 30 when it was revealed by the Unicorn Riot media site that a sailor with ties to neo-Nazi organizations had been readmitted to the Royal Canadian Navy. This was done despite the sailor’s involvement with violent white supremacist groups and recorded attempts to sell military-grade weaponry to hate groups, the Calgary Herald noted.
The sailor was an active member of Blood and Honour, a neo-Nazi group that is considered a terrorist organization in Canada. In his on-line posts, he spoke about an impending “race war” and his hate for the Canadian military, the Calgary Herald pointed out.
Yet he was reinstated in the Royal Canadian Navy.
McDonald stated that the navy was undertaking a command-level review “to ensure that we have handled this matter appropriately and in accordance with the latest Departmental guidance on hateful conduct, which was recently released and provides key direction and guidance regarding DND/CAF response to hateful conduct.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020