It was racist materials found in former MCp. Patrik Mathews’ truck, discovered by border agents during a stop at the Canada-U.S. border, which alerted Canada’s national security radar and triggered an intelligence investigation, sources tell Global News.
That was also the tripwire which drew federal officials and police from Manitoba to the United States as the search for Mathews — who was reported missing last week — continues.
Mathews was discharged from the military on Aug. 30.
National security sources tell Global News that Mathews made “frequent trips” to the United States, driving across the border.
It remains unclear what Mathews was doing in the U.S., and who, if anyone, he was meeting with.
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It was on one of those trips, sometime in the spring, that Canadian officials conducted a random search of his truck and located racist material which they say was so concerning, they contacted the intelligence unit of the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA).
As a result, the CBSA notified the RCMP and the military, triggering a covert military intelligence investigation.
Two weeks ago, a Winnipeg Free Press report was published, alleging Mathews was recruiting for a white supremacist network called The Base, which operates out of the U.S.
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Following publication, the military said in a statement that Mathews had been relieved of his duties over allegations of his involvement with neo-Nazis.
“This action was deemed necessary, considering the seriousness of the allegations and the risk to unit morale and cohesion,” a military spokesperson said in an email to Global News.
The statement said that Mathews, a master corporal with the Winnipeg-based 38 Canadian Brigade Group, would “no longer be a participant in military activities in any form, and will not be returning to work.”
Days later, Mathews was reported missing. He was last seen by family members in Beausejour, northeast of Winnipeg, on Aug. 24.
After he vanished, the frequent trips he made to the U.S. raised new concerns with national security sources who fear he may have fled to the U.S.
This fear was heightened further after RCMP officers located Mathews’ vehicle on Monday, on a rural property near Piney in the province’s southeast, about nine kilometres from the U.S. border.
Located along with his truck were Mathews’ wallet and IDs.
Kittson County Sheriff Mark Wilwant told the Canadian Press that a bulletin was issued to nearby counties to be on the lookout for Mathews.
He says it’s assumed the 26-year-old walked across the border in a remote area and that he could be carrying weapons.
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Wilwant says there’s a concern for public safety because of Mathews’ “ideologies.”
“He’s exhibited behaviours before that are concerning with his beliefs,” Wilwant said.
Multiple Canadian sources also confirmed to Global News that U.S. law enforcement and federal investigators have been alerted by Canadian authorities that there is a strong likelihood Mathews could be in the country.
When asked repeatedly if they were investigating Mathews or if they believe he is in the U.S, the FBI said “no comment.”
A news release issued by the RCMP on Tuesday urged the public to call police immediately and “avoid engaging” with Mathews if spotted.
“The RCMP believe Mr. Mathews may be under a significant amount of pressure due to this ongoing investigation and the extensive media coverage it has garnered,” the release reads.
According to the RCMP, the search for Mathews is ongoing.
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The RCMP would neither confirm nor deny whether a criminal investigation had been launched into Mathews, however, Global News has learned Mathews’ firearms, seized in a raid conducted by the RCMP, remained in police custody after he was released.
However, on Wednesday, the Canadian Armed Forces confirmed there is an ongoing counter intelligence investigation into Mathews, to determine whether he was operating alone or as part of a wider ring, potentially involving connections in the U.S.
Sources tell Global News the investigation was so secretive, it was hidden even from the Manitoba chain of command.
— With files from Kerri Breen, Andrew Russell and The Canadian Press