Systemic racism is rampant throughout the Canadian Armed Forces, “repulsing” new recruits and putting at risk the country’s national security if jobs continue to go unfilled, according to a bombshell report.
In stark terms, the report probing racism in the Canadian military lays out why fixing the “toxic” environment goes to the heart of the military’s ability to do the crucial jobs entrusted to it.
To sum it up: more and more Canadians will have no interest in joining until the military fixes its long-standing, interconnected issues of racism, abuse of power, gender discrimination and sexual misconduct.
As part of that, the report says military brass must accept that some members will either leave or need to be removed.
“Racism in Canada is not a glitch in the system; it is the system,” reads the report by the Minister of National Defence’s Advisory Panel on Systemic Racism and Discrimination.
The report offered recommendations across 13 areas of the military’s culture and systems, and examined the full spectrum of racism and discrimination including the barriers facing Black, Indigenous, LGBTQ2+ and women members within the ranks, as well as the barriers facing Canadians with disabilities.
Its findings come at a time when the Canadian Forces is already facing what experts have repeatedly called an existential “crisis” about allegations of sexual misconduct within its senior ranks, as first reported by Global News in February 2021.
In the year since, military culture has been under intense scrutiny, with countless experts pointing to a culture described as one where abuses of power too often flourish unchecked and where members who are not white, male, cisgender and heterosexual face discrimination and retaliation for speaking out.
“Although stories of sexual misconduct within the Department of National Defence and Canadian Armed
Forces have led the media focus over recent months, sexual misconduct is a symptom of a bigger
ailment: a toxic environment within both the military and civilian workplaces,” the report stressed.
“Unless it is rapidly reined in and addressed, the impact of this toxicity will linger for years, affecting the reputation of the Defence Team to the point of repulsing Canadians from joining its workforce.
“Recruitment data suggest that this is already happening.”
Canadian military leaders continue to struggle to boost recruitment, with current numbers thousands of new members short of their target goals — particularly among women and Canadians from diverse backgrounds.
According to senior military leaders who spoke with journalists last month, 71 per cent of military members are white men compared with 39 per cent in the civilian workforce.
Last year, the military ombudsman Gregory Lick warned the military sexual misconduct crisis posed a “national security risk” due, in part, to the “negative impacts on recruitment and retention.”
While the panel conducting the report did issue recommendations, members also took pains in the document to emphasize that the military must implement the recommendations made by other reviews of racism and discrimination in the past.
Many of them, the panel warned, remain ignored, and the report said part of the panel’s work was to compile and highlight the steps that still need to be taken.
Among those, the report urged that exit interviews be done routinely for members leaving the military to better understand the factors driving so many to leave.
Only 7.8 per cent of departing members get exit interviews, the report stated.
The implementation of those past recommendations also needs to be tracked, members added, and they raised concerns that the panel “could not get a response” from military leaders on the status of multiple recommendations and whether they are being put in place.
How to tackle white supremacy?
Among the questions weighed by the panel was the military’s response to white supremacy in its ranks.
There has been mounting pressure on the military to do more to crack down on hateful ideologies that fall into the spectrum of what is increasingly called ideologically motivated violent extremism.
That’s a phrase used by national security agencies in Canada to describe the spectrum of extremist and, in some cases, terrorist ideologies that often share similar themes of anti-immigrant, anti-government, antisemitic and anti-women views. Many of those are rooted in notions of white supremacy.
Panel members spoke with the Canadian Defence Academy, the judge advocate general, the chief of military personnel, the Canadian Forces Intelligence Command, the Canadian Forces provost marshal and several external subject matter experts as part of their probe of white supremacy in the military.
“A common thread was evident throughout these consultations: membership in extremist groups is growing, it is becoming increasingly covert, and technological advances such as Darknet and encryption methods pose significant challenges in detecting these members,” the report said.
“The Defence Team is not immune to infiltration by these extremist groups and some units and departments may even be more vulnerable given their isolation from large metropolitan areas.”
The report cited “ignorance, poor education, and a narrow view of the traditional ideological spectrum” as contributing factors, and warned that “the detection of extremist pockets or individuals is still very much siloed and inefficient.”
Military leaders need a stronger grasp on how to respond, the report found.
That includes laying out clear steps for action once extremist members are identified, teaching leaders to identify extremist-affiliated symbols like tattoos, patches and logos, and standardizing the consequences members face for associating with hateful groups.
“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,” the report warned.
“Dismantling Canada’s white supremacy groups requires sustained and deliberate effort.”
The National Security and Intelligence Review Agency (NSIRA) warned in December 2021 that “the presence of white supremacy within the Canadian military has been well documented.”
“White supremacist groups actively seek individuals with prior military training and experience, or conversely, encourage individuals to enlist in order to gain access to specialized training, tactics and equipment,” the NSIRA report determined.
The most recent high-profile example was Patrik Mathews, an ex-reservist, who was recently sentenced to nine years in prison for his role in a violent plot to provoke a race war in Virginia. Mathews was a member of The Base, a militant white supremacist organization, who fled his Manitoba home to link up with the group’s members in the U.S.
— with a file from Global’s Alex Boutilier.