The five men who crashed an Indigenous ceremony in Halifax over the weekend, identifying themselves with a “Western chauvinist” fraternity, are members of the Canadian Armed Forces and could face discipline as a result of their actions.
The Department of National Defence confirmed to VICE News on Tuesday that all five of the self-styled “Proud Boys” are enlisted in the Canadian Forces. Four are in the navy, and one is enlisted in the army. As of Tuesday afternoon, a sixth member of the Canadian Armed Forces is now facing disciplinary action in connection to the protest, although it remains unclear as to how they are connected.
While the government couldn’t yet comment as to whether discipline would be coming, as that decision will be made through the chain-of-command, Rear Admiral John Newton told reporters on Tuesday they would have their files reviewed, both administratively and through the military police system.
A statement from the Commander of the Royal Canadian Navy slammed the protest, writing that the group’s actions “do not reflect the Royal Canadian Navy and Canadian Army.”
“Divisive behaviours in the unit, or communicated from their personal lives, are destructive to unit morale and combat effectiveness,” the statement reads.
The commander of the Canadian Army issued a similar statement, reading: “I condemn all acts disrespectful of the moral standards we uphold.”
The five showed up to a Halifax park on Canada Day, waving an early variant of the Canadian flag, with the aim of interrupting a ceremony being held at a statue of Edward Cornwallis — the military officer who founded Halifax, but who also ordered the killings of the area’s Indigenous people.
The five say they are part of the “Proud Boys,” a small group started by far-right commentator Gavin McInnes, expressly for males who consider themselves “Western chauvinism” — a blend of sexist and white nationalist themes that have become central to the alt-right. (McInnes co-founded VICE; he and the company severed all ties in 2008.)
They say they were there to protest the ceremony, calling it “disrespectful” to the long-dead military officer. The official Proud Boys Canada page calls the general a “hero.”
The five left after roughly ten minutes, without incident, after being confronted by the larger crowd at the the statue.
While Facebook pages for several of the men have either been removed or made private, a page for one participant remained online into Tuesday morning.
John Eldridge lists himself as a Leading Seaman at the Royal Canadian Navy, and his Facebook page contains an array of posts from alt-right and openly Islamophobic commentators and blog sites, including The Rebel, JihadWatch, and Milo Yiannopoulos.
Posts made by Eldridge include a meme featuring the crusade battle cry “Deus Vult” — which has become a new catchphrase of the anti-Muslim right — and: “How is Black Lives Matter not a terrorist organization?”
Responding to a comment about the demonstration on his Facebook page, the sailor admitted he had gone to the park and said he was there because the Indigenous peoples would “disrespect our flag.”
After the five protesters left the ceremony to go take pictures in a nearby pub, the ceremony continued. Chief Grizzly Mamma shaved her head, placing her braids at the foot of the statue, to symbolize Cornwallis’ practise of having his men scalp Indigenous peoples in the area he conquered.
“I cried just at the symbolic meaning of it. It’s very powerful, it’s a very powerful statement and very brave,” one attendee told CBC News, adding that it was as much about the past as it is about raising awareness of the issues still facing Indigenous peoples.