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This article was published 15/3/2021 (188 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The Canadian Armed Forces counter-intelligence unit covertly investigated then-military reservist Patrik Mathews as a possible terrorist threat — months before he was exposed as a neo-Nazi recruiter by the Winnipeg Free Press — per newly-released classified documents.
On Monday, CBC News reported on a series of Department of National Defence internal reports and emails the public broadcaster was able to obtain through access-to-information requests.
In June and July 2019 — shortly before the Free Press revealed its month-long undercover investigation — the CAF counter-intelligence unit gathered information on Mathews and produced two reports.
According to the government, the unit is tasked with "identifying, investigating and countering threats to the security of the DND and the CAF from espionage, sabotage, subversion, terrorist activities and other criminal activity."
Last month, the Canadian government officially designated the Base — a violent neo-Nazi paramilitary organization Mathews was linked to — as a terror group.
Despite the unit probe, however, the local chain of command in Winnipeg — where Mathews served with the 38 Canadian Brigade Group — was left in the dark about the military’s concerns and investigation.
In August 2019, the Free Press exposed Mathews as a member of the military who was moonlighting as a recruiter for a neo-Nazi group. Soon after, the RCMP raided his Beausejour home, seized weapons, and released him without charge.
Days later, Mathews vanished; his truck turned up near the U.S.-Canada border.
American prosecutors now allege he illegally entered the country and began plotting violent attacks with fellow neo-Nazis. He’s currently awaiting trial in Maryland on multiple criminal offences.
According to CBC, a chain of internal emails shows Canadian military staffers dealing with media requests were unsure of how to respond to such a high-profile case of extremism within its ranks.
This is consistent with a written statement sent by the DND to the Free Press on Monday.
"We were not prepared to respond publicly to a CAF member being affiliated with an organization connected with hate-related criminal activities," a DND spokeswoman said.
"While the chain of command took action right away, we had to navigate what could be communicated without compromising the investigation and ensuring we followed legislation of the Privacy Act, while also ensuring information was released in the public interest of openness and transparency."
In August and September 2019, the Integrated Terrorism Assessment Centre produced two reports on Mathews in order to help senior federal leaders make decisions about how to handle the case.
At the time, ITAC warned the government the threat level was "medium," saying an act of terrorism "could occur" in Canada.
In the written statement, the DND spokeswoman said in the aftermath of the Mathews case, the military launched its hateful conduct incident tracking system in July 2020. It aims to provide "greater insight on the scope and scale" of such conduct within its ranks.
The military realized there had been "no single or synchronized source for information on the nature and frequency of the occurrence of hateful conduct incidents," the spokeswoman said.
"As of the end of February 2021, the CAF is tracking a total of 214 reported incidents (January 1997-Feb. 26). Disciplinary actions taken falls within each individual’s chain of command and CAF-wide statistics would not be immediately available."
An earlier internal report from the military police identified more than 50 incidents of hateful conduct or extremist activity in the CAF from January 2013 to November 2018.
Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.