Members of the “Proud Boys, Maritime chapter” who protested at Mi’kmaq ceremony on July 1st in Halifax, Nova Scotia, are to be returned to active duty following this summer’s military investigation.
The five “Proud Boys” in question, all members of the Canadian Armed Forces, had been removed from regular duty pending the decision of the military courts. The courts have now declared their ruling and no criminal charges have been filed. As a result, all but one of the men, who had taken steps to leave the Armed Forces for unrelated reasons previous to the July 1st incident, are set to return to regular duty.
Easily identified by the black polo shirts with yellow piping which have become a kind of uniform for the group, the ‘Proud Boys’ sang “God Save the Queen” as they approached the indigenous ceremony, thereby intentionally disrupting an event intended to mourn the region’s history of atrocities against indigenous peoples.
The ruling on their case is, therefore, an expected but also a disappointing conclusion to the summer’s events and one which highlights the limits of Canada’s judicial and non-judicial courts in helping to bridge animosity between Canada’s indigenous peoples and groups like the “Proud Boys”, a self-proclaimed group of “Western chauvinists.”
Members of Mi’kmaq indigenous communities had gathered around a statue of Edward Cornwallis where Chief Grizzly Mama, originally from British Columbia, had shaved her head as a sign of mourning when the “Proud Boys” arrived. The use of Edward Cornwallis’ name and likeness have come under scrutiny in recent years for their use in public streets and monuments. Credited by the British with having founded Halifax in 1749, Cornwallis reacted to an attack on colonists with a bounty for Mi’kmaq scalps.
Thus, while what the “Proud Boys” did in disrupting the Mi’kmaq ceremony may not have been illegal—the interruption remained peaceful and videos of the confrontation show both sides engaged in discussion—it is evidence of a troubling lack of education and an even more troubling lack of compassion.
The issue with which Canadians will now have to contend is not whether or not what the “Proud Boys” did was legal, but whether or not what they did was right.
Speaking on Thursday, August 31st, Rear-Admiral John Newton specified that the servicemen have not yet passed the final hurdle of the military judicial system and will face a probationary period during which time they could still compromise their return to regular duty if they refuse to comply with the requirements set out for them.
“If they fail… they are gone. This is not lightweight punishment,” he said.
The conditions of that probationary period are being withheld, a point Rear-Admiral Newton defended: “I’m not going to spell out the individual type of probationary measures because there is privacy and confidentiality of the members involved and they have that right as individual citizens.”
As the door closes on what Rebecca Thomas, Halifax’s poet laureate who is also a Mi’kmaq activist, identified as a potential “teachable moment,” the opportunity for any kind of restorative justice seems slim. It is a reality which casts Newton’s assertion that the “Boys” are remorseful into doubt.
“I would have liked to have seen a restorative justice process for these individuals where they have to face the community that they wronged,” Thomas told reporters.
For their part, the Proud Boys organization still sees the situation as an us vs. them battle, as evidenced by the wording of an August 31st post on the Proud Boys Canadian Chapters Facebook page: “We win, our brothers in the Halifax 5 are returning to active military duty with no charges, let the SJW [Social Justice Warriors] tears pour. Proud of our Boys.”
“Their assembly embarrassed us,” said Rear-Admiral Newton on behalf of the Armed Forces. Indeed, many Canadians may feel that they embarrassed us all.
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