The Canadian Armed Forces is investigating whether one of its Winnipeg members may be recruiting for an international neo-Nazi organization.
Master Cpl. Patrik Mathews, a combat engineer at the Canadian Forces Base in Winnipeg, is facing allegations he may be involved in a hate group, the Department of National Defence said in a statement.
Details of Mathews's alleged activities were originally revealed by the Winnipeg Free Press, whose reporter went undercover posing as a recruit. According to the report, the 26-year-old man has been a member of the Army Reserves for about eight years and has training with explosives.
"The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) was aware of possible racist extremist activities by a CAF member in Manitoba prior to the recent media coverage and have been investigating the matter," a spokesperson for the Department of National Defence said in an email statement.
Details about Mathews are covered under the Privacy Act and the military declined further comment about its ongoing investigation.
The statement also said the Canadian Armed Forces takes the allegations seriously.
"Any form of hateful conduct erodes cohesion and esprit de corps, and diminishes our authority as a force for good in Canadian society and around the world. We will not tolerate it in any form," the statement said. It adds it is "completely unacceptable" for members to participate in any activity, or groups connected with criminal activities, that promote hatred, violence, discrimination or harassment.
Posters seeking recruits for a group calling itself The Base have appeared in multiple locations around Winnipeg in recent weeks.
Groups like The Base represent the "extreme of the extreme" among neo-Nazi white supremacists, said Evan Balgord, executive director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network.
"They worship mass killers and they want to carry out terrorist attacks to accelerate what they see as a coming race war in Canada and the United States."
One of The Base's stated goals, Balgord said, is for members to get into the military in order to receive training and then spread that to others in their group.
"This is something that the Canadian Armed Forces needs to take extremely seriously," Balgord said.
Although membership in The Base is estimated at 50 to 100 members, Balgord says its goal is not to recruit a large number of people.
"Even one individual like this, with the kind of training that this person has, could be extremely dangerous. Just like if we had found a member of ISIS within our military, it would be a national story, there would be immediate action."
Manitoba party leaders respond
Provincial party leaders speaking at campaign events on Monday responded to the news of a white supremacist terror group possibly recruiting in Winnipeg.
"My reaction is that that kind of stuff is deplorable and an insult to the intelligence of thinking people," said Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister.
"We have laws against these things. When those laws are violated people should be prosecuted."
All people have a responsibility to "eradicate hate from our society" by being careful with the words we use and the examples we set, said NDP Leader Wab Kinew.
"I would like to send a message that for those who are perhaps on the margins of being radicalized, those who are seeing YouTube videos that make you feel a certain kind of way, that it's not too late.
"You still can rejoin our society, but at the same time, it's not going to be easy. You've got to put in the work, too."
A spokesperson for the Winnipeg Police Service said it is aware of the posters in Winnipeg and is monitoring the situation, but declined to comment further.
Extremism in the Forces
Similar types of inappropriate behaviour have been found within less than one per cent of the population, according to a recent report from the Military Police Criminal Intelligence Program that tracked incidents of racism and white supremacy within the CAF from 2013 to 2018.
Punishment for this type of behaviour could range from initial counselling to career consequences, including dismissal, and legal repercussions. The military said seven administrative reviews have been conducted related to extremism and racism, which has led to two individuals being released from the Forces.