Rear Admiral John Newton says members of the Canadian Armed Forces involved “in proximity or in real intent” to disrupt an Indigenous protest in Halifax on Canada Day will “face the consequences.”
Newton told reporters on Tuesday that he had met with five members in a “one-way conversation” that also included the local 5th division commander and the Atlantic fleet commander of the Royal Canadian Navy.
“I just told the young people that they had crossed a line where their personal beliefs, their personal ideology which they’re allowed to have, got into the public domain,” Newton said. “And in fact, their personal beliefs whether it’s religious, about political or whether it’s even white supremacy, whatever the ‘Proud Boys’ represent is not a shared value of the Canadian Armed Forces.”
The Department of National Defence has confirmed to Global News that all five are members of the Canadian Armed Forces with at least two being members of the Royal Canadian Navy. Newton said Tuesday that the members involved represented the navy and a member of the Canadian Army.
He said the disciplinary actions could include administrative action, which is already moving forward, and a police investigation.
WATCH: Rear Admiral John Newton addressed the appearance of Canadian Armed Forces members at an Indigenous protest in Halifax on Canada Day. As Dave Squires reports, The CAF thinks this can be used as a lesson for their young recruits.
‘Proud Boys’ incident
The five men, who said they were associated with “The Proud Boys, Martime chapter,” were filmed during an encounter at a ceremony to mourn the atrocities committed against Indigenous Peoples.
Rebecca Moore, who organized the Indigenous ceremony, told the Canadian Press that dozens of people were gathered around the statue of Edward Cornwallis as Chief Grizzly Mamma, who is originally from British Columbia, shaved her head in act of mourning.
Cornwallis, as governor of Nova Scotia, founded Halifax in 1749 and soon after, issued a bounty on Mi’kmaq scalps in response to an attack on colonists.
WATCH: A video posted online appears to show several men, including two Navy members, confront a group of demonstrators on Saturday, who had gathered to mourn atrocities committed against Indigenous Peoples.
Moore said the group of men wore black polo shirts with yellow piping and sang God Save the Queen as they walked toward the ceremony.
One of the men carried a Red Ensign, which was the national flag until it was replaced by the Maple Leaf in 1965.
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said in a Facebook post he had been made aware of the incident and stressed that “this kind of behaviour is not tolerated in the Canadian Armed Forces.”
Sajjan addressed the members of Halifax’s Mi’kmaq community and Chief Grizzly Mamma in his post, apologizing for the pain the incident had caused.
“I know my words cannot undo the disrespect that was shown to you and your community,” he wrote. “I know our government has much more work to do with respect to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.”
He went on to say the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service is investigating and will determine if charges are to be laid.
Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance also issued a statement Tuesday calling the incident in Halifax “deplorable.”
“Canadians should rest assured my senior leadership is seized of the matter,” Vance said. “The members involved will be removed from training and duties while we conduct an investigation and review the circumstances. Their future in the military is certainly in doubt.
“I expect better.”
Incident puts Armed Forces trust at stake
Newton said the outcry from the public was justified but he said some members of the Forces also felt a violation.
When he was made aware of the incident, he said he interacted with those who spoke about the story on social media.
“I think the few words I used on social media were enough to give confidence to the Aboriginal community that we would take action,” Newton said.
He added that the Forces are looking for a more inclusive organization and that he’s been trying to ensure the community that “we stand for them as much as we stand for something they see in us.” He went on reference a still “very white, male organization,” and what they’re doing to change that.
Asked if the incident would be detrimental to recruitment and creating a more inclusive environment, he said he hopes it will be a step forward.
“We’re going to be working hard through these kinds of examples to deter others, to educate others, to tell them they belong to a bigger and greater system,” Newton said.
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“They have to be very aware that they represent their institution, off-duty, out of uniform, in their personal lives.”
Newton also apologized to the Aboriginal community and the whole public community for the incident.
“I apologize for the actions of my young sailors, and … I apologize for the members’ actions.”
— With files from The Canadian Press