Hours after a Canadian soldier’s Beausejour home was raided and weapons were seized, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said he’s deeply troubled by the master corporal's ties to a neo-Nazi paramilitary group.
While he couldn’t speak to the specific case of Master Cpl. Patrik Mathews, citing the ongoing RCMP and military investigations into his extremist activity, Sajjan said under his watch the armed forces will shift to a more proactive approach to remove far-right radicals from its ranks.
"We need for all leaders to step up and take very aggressive actions to make sure these types of behaviours do not become even more prevalent, because as you know, it can lead to horrible atrocities," Sajjan said in an interview with the Free Press.
"Ideally, we want to make sure everybody is vetted, but in case somebody slips through the cracks of our system of selection, we want to make sure anybody knows that if they ever express these types of viewpoints or engage in this, that serious consequences will come to those actions."
For years, trackers of far-right extremism have accused the military of downplaying the scope and severity of the problem and for failing to be more aggressive in identifying radicals and members of hate groups within its ranks.
Sajjan said the military now plans to do just that. He also confirmed military investigators are working with the RCMP as the extent of Mathews’ extremist activity is probed.
The true number of far-right extremists and members of hate groups in the Canadian military remains unknown, which is one reason why Sajjan said he called for a new report to be commissioned into the issue last week.
Posted: 20/08/2019 6:09 PM
BEAUSEJOUR — The change of scenery on this quiet tree-lined street was as stark as the revelation that the man living in the modest white bungalow has ties to a neo-Nazi paramilitary organization.
Where hours earlier under darkness, Canadian Army Reserves Master Cpl. Patrik Mathews was walking out with his hands in the air as RCMP surrounded the home as part of a raid that seized firearms, here he was standing in the bright sunshine, confrontational and then considerate.
In November 2018, a military report identified 53 members of the armed forces over a four-year period as belonging to a hate group or espousing racist and extremist beliefs.
The new report will seek to gain a fuller understanding of just how widespread the problem is and will also include a number of recommendations as to how the military can shift to a more "proactive" and "preventative" approach.
Mathews, 26, was identified by the Free Press Monday morning as spearheading the recent recruitment drive in Winnipeg for a white supremacist organization called The Base, which represents the most violent, radical fringes of the far-right hate movement.
Hours later, at about 10 p.m., RCMP raided Mathews' home in Beausejour.
Neighbours said he was taken from the scene in custody and a video of the incident obtained by the Free Press shows police identifying Mathews by name over a loudspeaker, instructing him to exit from the back door with his hands up.
The Mounties have yet to officially name the subject of the search warrant, which has not yet been made public, although they did confirm several firearms were seized. Mathews is known to own long guns and a pistol.
There is no one in custody at this time and the RCMP investigation remains ongoing. A report detailing Mathews membership in a neo-Nazi group and current state of mind have also been filed with the provincial chief firearms officer, which is the office responsible for administering gun licences.
On Tuesday, the Canadian Armed Forces spoke to reporters for the first time since the Free Press revealed Mathews’ military background and extremist activity.
Commander 38 Canadian Brigades Group Col. Gwen Bourque said Mathews remains an active member of the reserves pending the outcome of its investigation. She said he was a "Class A" part-time soldier who last worked for the reserves in May. He is next scheduled to work in September.
"I became aware one of my soldiers in the 38 Canadian Brigades Group is alleged to be involved in a hate organization and I can confirm a military investigation is ongoing," Bourque said.
"We are moving forward to take immediate action on this matter and we are ensuring that we focus on the safety of our soldiers."
Bourque stressed Mathews does not currently have access to military weaponry and seemed to downplay Mathews' experience with explosives, saying his training in this area was "rudimentary."
However, a military source told the Free Press explosives are the "bread and butter" of all combat engineers.
While there are members of the army reserves with more advanced training, the source said Mathews spent months learning how to use explosives and has participated in countless exercises involving explosives.
It is not known when the military investigation will conclude. It is also unclear what action — if any — the forces will take against Mathews, although Bourque said there are several options at their disposal, including termination.
During the interview, Bourque seemed unfamiliar with the violent neo-Nazi organization; when a reporter asked if the military had confirmed Mathews is a member of The Base, she got confused and thought the reporter was referring to a military base.
Mathews has not responded to requests for comment sent to social media accounts he operates.
— With files from Caitlyn Gowriluk
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.