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This article was published 27/8/2019 (550 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The Canadian Armed Forces has stripped Master Cpl. Patrik Mathews of his uniforms, relieved him from his duties, and will formally release him from the military in the coming weeks, the Free Press has learned.
The actions come a week after the Free Press identified Mathews as a recruiter for the neo-Nazi paramilitary group known as The Base, which represents the most violent, radical fringes of the far-right hate movement.
"It is incumbent of our leaders to know their soldiers, and to take measures when they have acted in a manner that is not aligned with our beliefs and culture of respect for all people," a military spokeswoman said in a written statement Tuesday.
"We have taken decisive action, and we will continue to exert full energy in removing those from our ranks who harbour extremist ideologies."
“We have taken decisive action, and we will continue to exert full energy in removing those from our ranks who harbour extremist ideologies.” –Military statement
Mathews was scheduled to return to work for the Canadian Army Reserves as a combat engineer in September. The decision to relieve him from his duties is an administrative action that amounts to a suspension.
The military’s investigation into Mathews' conduct and extremist views continues. His formal release in the coming weeks will not preclude the Armed Forces from completing its probe and charging Mathews, if deemed appropriate.
"This means that (Mathews) will no longer be a participant in military activities in any form, and will not be returning to work. This action was deemed necessary, considering the seriousness of the allegations and the risk to unit morale and cohesion," the spokeswoman said.
Mathews was exposed as a member of the neo-Nazi group The Base after a Free Press reporter went undercover to infiltrate the organization as it conducted a recruitment drive in Winnipeg.
After posters emblazoned with fascistic imagery and bearing the phrase "Save your Race, Join The Base" started popping up around the city, a Free Press reporter reached out to the group posing as a white nationalist interested in joining.
The reporter passed through a multi-tiered vetting process that included email and encrypted messaging exchanges, a voice call with the group’s founder in the U.S., and an in-person meeting with its local activist. Then he was invited to become a member.
Hours later, the RCMP raided Mathews' home, seized his firearms and briefly took him into custody. He has not been charged with a crime. The RCMP investigation is ongoing.
In the wake of the Free Press reports, the military held a press conference last week in which Commander 38 CBG Col. Gwen Bourque said Mathews last served with the reserves in May and at that time the Armed Forces had no idea there were any issues with him.
Two days later, this was contradicted by chief of defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance, who said Mathews’ "utterances" first brought him on the radar of the national counter-intelligence unit in April.
The military later clarified that Bourque was mistaken in her comments and was not aware when Mathews had been flagged. It's not clear to what extent — if any — the military knew of Mathews' extremist views and membership in the neo-Nazi group.
Shortly after he appeared on the radar of the national counter-intelligence unit in April, Mathews had a sit-down meeting with his chain of command and put in a request for a voluntary release from the Forces, a process that can take more than a year to complete.
"His request for a voluntary release from the Canadian Armed Forces, which had been in progress since April, has been expedited and is expected to be finalized within weeks," the spokeswoman said.
Canadian Anti-Hate Network chair Bernie Farber said he’s pleased the military has moved quickly to deal with Mathews, but said it still needs to begin taking a more proactive approach to weeding out far-right extremists from its ranks.
He also said its disappointing it took a Free Press reporter to identify Mathews as a member of a neo-Nazi paramilitary group.
"We’re gratified that the Canadian Armed Forces moved so quickly, but I wish they would have discovered this themselves. To me, it seems if a Winnipeg Free Press reporter can find this out, certainly the criminal investigation division of the CAF has the ability to do the same," Farber said.
"They have to become much more transparent. Canadians have a right to know how the military is dealing with extremists in their realm. If a report had come out that there were members of ISIS in the CAF, rest assured this would have been resolved in 20 minutes."
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.