Canada’s former chief of defence staff says he thinks the country is unlikely to encounter civil unrest similar to the sectarian election violence gripping the U.S. ahead of its upcoming transfer of power.
In an interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson, retired Gen. Jonathan Vance said the two countries are fundamentally different in ways that make the right-wing extremist violence south of the border unlikely to occur here.
“I personally do not see that sort of thing materializing in Canada,” he said when asked whether he thinks the Canadian Forces could ever face calls to aid in a domestic response to a similar assault.
“I want to be really clear here — I don’t see that episode playing out here in Canada at all. I don’t see it for a variety of reasons. We’re a different country that doesn’t generate that sort of response.”
Right-wing American extremists laid siege to the U.S. Capitol building nearly two weeks ago, with prosecutors saying some of the participants who stormed the federal building did so with the aim of capturing and assassinating lawmakers.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has opened nearly 200 case files as part of an effort to identify and charge those involved in the violent attack, which includes a strike force specifically focused on building evidence for charges of sedition and insurrection.
The rioters scaled scaffolding set up for the inauguration this week of President-elect Joe Biden, assaulted and injured Capitol police officers, and invaded the offices of lawmakers.
Chilling images of rioters using military formation and assault tactics have also surfaced.
According to an Associated Press review of public records, social media posts and videos, at least 21 current or former members of the U.S. military or other law enforcement agencies have been identified as being at or near the Capitol riot.
More than one dozen others are under investigation, but not yet named.
White supremacy and right-wing extremism within the ranks of military and law enforcement bodies have attracted increasing attention as a key challenge around the world — and Canada is no different.
Accused neo-Nazi and former Canadian Forces reservist Patrik Matthews was arrested and charged last year with several alleged co-conspirators in a plot involving the extremist militia group The Base.
A former combat engineer, he fled across the border from Manitoba after reports emerged in Canada outlining his role as an alleged recruiter for the extremist group.
Corey Hurren was charged with 22 criminal counts after ramming his vehicle through the gates of Rideau Hall while heavily armed, then going off in search of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his family.
The military reservist wrote a letter expressing anti-government sentiments before the attack, which experts say suggests he was “clearly familiar with conspiracy theories.”
And both cases come after a highly-publicized incident involving five military members of the Proud Boys extremist group who interrupted a Mi’kmaq ceremony in Halifax.
Four of the five faced no criminal charges and were placed on probation but allowed to return to regular duties in a decision the extremist group described as a “win.” One of the members left the military.
Last year, the military unveiled a new “hateful conduct” policy that more clearly defined inappropriate harassing, violent and/or discriminatory behaviour for those in its ranks.
The directive defined “hateful conduct” as: “an act or conduct, including the display or communication of words, symbols or images, by a CAF member, that they knew or ought reasonably to have known would constitute, encourage, justify or promote violence or hatred against a person or persons of an identifiable group, based on their national or ethnic origin, race, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, marital status, family status, genetic characteristics or disability.”
The military has faced continued questions over whether that policy goes far enough and whether it should be taking a stricter line against members who engage with or espouse extremist ideas.
Vance said the issue is one his successor, Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Art MacDonald, will continue tackling.
“It’s serious, period — the scale and the depth and the penetration of this in the Armed Forces. We don’t know all the answers to that, but we’re continuing to try and find out what we must do,” he said.
But he said the calls for swift, decisive action against problematic members isn’t the right response.
“There is a an interesting phenomenon, though, by some groups that want an automatic, visceral reaction to an individual to result in the immediate dismissal — the removal of their livelihood and abandoning the concept of due process while dealing with an individual,” he continued.
“We are beholden to and uphold all the laws of the land, including the need for due process. So we must demonstrate our intolerance for all of this through the rule of law. Sometimes that is not nearly as fast or nearly as showy as some would like.
“But I guarantee you, the intolerance for this is there.“
— With files from The Associated Press.