Navy apologizes after 5 Armed Forces members disrupt Indigenous event on Canada Day
The commanding officer of the Royal Canadian Navy on the East Coast is apologizing for the actions of several members of the Canadian Forces who were involved in a confrontation during an Indigenous protest in Halifax on Canada Day.
Rear Admiral John Newton said Tuesday that members represent their institution even when they’re off duty and out of uniform in their personal lives.
“I’ll stand here in front of you and apologize to the Aboriginal community, to the whole public community that feels offended by the actions of fellow Canadians who wear the uniform,” he told a group of reporters.
On Saturday, a group of five men carrying a Red Ensign approached a gathering of Indigenous people and activists at the Edward Cornwallis statue in downtown Halifax.
The gathering paused as the five men approached and the two groups exchanged words. The man who was carrying the flag said, “You’re disrespecting General Cornwallis.”
‘Erodes’ trust in military
Newton said he followed social media response to the incident and sat down with the group to explain that their actions didn’t represent the military.
“It erodes government, public and the trust of our fellow members in our combat units. I made that point quite clear to them,” he said.
“The perception I took is exactly what the people at the Cornwallis monument took. It didn’t allow them to have the space to have their own views and to express them. It tried to counter them.”
It’s just the wrong place for our soldiers, sailors and our men and women to be, and they certainly shouldn’t be congregating even outside of that representing those kinds of views.”
A Facebook message that appears to be from Dave Eldridge, one of the military members who approached the activists and Indigenous protesters, told CBC News he is part of group called Proud Boys, a “multi-racial fraternal organization.”
The Facebook page of the Proud Boys Canadian Chapters says they are “a fraternal organization of Western Chauvinists who will no longer apologize for creating the modern world,” and do not discriminate on the basis of race or sexuality.
Newton said a military police investigation — as well as an administrative one — is underway. He would not say what the consequences would be for the Armed Forces members identified as Proud Boys.
“Trust me: this is a matter of supreme importance to get right and we’re going to have to keep getting it right as we bring young people into the Canadian Armed Forces,” he said.
Navy, army members
Newton said the five people involved included members of the navy and army.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re off-hours or in civilian clothes, the fact that you’re identified and your behaviours are perceived in contravention of our stated policies of the Canadian Armed Forces, you have just transgressed your personal life into your public life,” he said.
“They should become educated in a hurry about what the Canadian Armed Forces really stands for.”
Group approached ceremony
Eldridge said in his Facebook message that the group had thought the event was an anti-Canada protest and left after learning that wasn’t the case.
The entire exchange between the two groups lasted about 10 minutes.
Cornwallis was a British military officer who founded Halifax in 1749. Later that year, he issued a bounty on the scalps of Mi’kmaq people. There’s been considerable debate over the use of Cornwallis’s name on public parks, buildings and street signs.
Organizers say they planned to hold the July 1 event there because they felt the statue is a symbol of the systematic persecution of Indigenous people, past and present.
Indigenous group responds
Rebecca Moore, a Mi’kmaq activist who was at the Cornwallis protest on Canada Day, said she was happy to hear the rear admiral apologize on behalf of the offending Forces members.
“I do believe he is on the right track and I do appreciate his words,” said Moore.
Newton said the Indigenous community would be consulted about the Proud Boys incident. He said he has good communications with local Indigenous leaders and would speak to advisers in the community to get guidance.
But Moore said Newton should speak to her group, since it was the one that came in direct conflict with the Proud Boys.
“I’m wondering if and when that’s going to happen,” said Moore. “I don’t think it would make sense to go to other groups; it would make sense to come directly to us.”
‘Destructive to unit morale’
The commander of the Royal Canadian Navy issued a statement on Facebook in response to the incident.
“The actions of a few do not reflect the Royal Canadian Navy and Canadian Army commitment to being inclusive and diverse organizations,” the statement from Vice-Admiral Ron Lloyd and Lt.-Gen. Paul Wynnyk said.
“Divisive behaviours in the unit, or communicated from their personal lives, are destructive to unit morale and combat effectiveness.”