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RWE-CAF Research Network Blog

  • June 2021: Shifting Focus: Right-Wing Extremism in the Dutch Military (External Link)

    The RWE-CAF Research Network has partnered with Yannick Veilleux-Lepage, PhD and Joris Larik who are examining and comparing the legal frameworks, regulations, and best practices of six NATO member states (Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany and France) to counter radicalization and extremism within their armed forces.

    Anne Lotte Romkes and Elise Schermers, two interns working on the project have just published a short blog post on RWE in the Dutch Military. The blog post can be read on Leiden University's Security and Global Affairs Blog page, here

  • April 2021: The Impacts of Masculinist Culture for Women Serving in the Canadian Military
    The Impacts of Masculinist Culture for Women Serving in the Canadian Military

    Written by Philip McCristall, Ph.D.

                In light of what is being broadcasted throughout media sources regarding sexual misconduct and inappropriate behaviour within the Canadian military, I will briefly discuss the cultural experiences that impact some women. This information is based on research found within my dissertation. I explored the lives and experiences of 55 women who had served in the Canadian military, some of whom were still serving during the implementation of Operation Honour and others who had exited the military prior to its development. According to the Deschamps Report (2015), the culture within Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and the Department of Nation Defence (DND) reflects a toxic sexist working environment and does not cater to healthy integration.

                Following the Deschamps Report Operation Honour (2015) was implemented. This new directive was specifically designed to create a working environment that promoted inclusiveness, was equitable, with a direct focus on eradicating all oppressive, sexualized, and inappropriate behaviour within the ranks of the CAF and DND. This new initiative was to fix what had been broken for decades, but unfortunately, has been viewed by many as falling short. As of late, top military officials are being investigated for inappropriate sexual misconduct and there are women coming forward stating that they continue to feel unwelcome, reporting that Operation Honour - meant to eradicate inappropriate behaviour - is not working.

                The government, the CAF and the DND have all publicly acknowledged that the culture within today’s military reflects a sexualized nature that is quite problematic and is in desperate need of transformation. Women are still forced to navigate a cultural space that values a masculine ethos above all and has been found to impact successful integration (McCristall 2020). Historically, entering the military meant “learn[ing] to adapt by acting out gender norms in order to avoid revealing secrets that would unsettle the dominant masculine culture” (McCristall 2020:97). Women have been the targets of bullying and discrimination, having to constantly prove themselves against the values of the dominant culture that does not view them as equal cohorts (Herbert 1998). Gender has always been, and continues to be, a dominant issue of exclusion within the CAF (Grenier 2020). Traditionally, the cultural working environment within the CAF and DND supports the masculine dominant group, wherein women are constantly subjected to dismissive and inappropriate behaviour. One participant in a Canadian military study states that:

    The military has a long way to go to actually making [its working environment] welcoming. I cannot count how many times I would get called ‘dear’.... I have a name, I have a rank, I am not your fucking dear! You would never call one of your male co-workers that, do not call me that. There is a lot of terms that I do not think people realize just how condescending it feels to constantly be called that (McCristall 2020). 

    All women have the right to be treated and represented fairly within all workplaces, free from oppressive behaviour, discrimination and harassment. However, even with these rights and rules written into law women continue to see a range of systemic issues pertaining to gender and sexualized inappropriate behaviour within the Canadian military.

                According to Taber (2017:n.p.), “women, as a group, continue to experience marginalization while sexual harassment and sexual assault continue to occur.”  Recently, media sources have revealed that misogyny and sexual misconduct continue to exist throughout the ranks of the CAF including top positions within leadership following the implementation of Operation Honour. Not only does it exist, but retired defence chief General Jonathan Vance who implemented Operation Honour in 2015 is fighting allegations of inappropriate sexual misconduct with subordinate service members. Major Kellie Brennan a past subordinate officer under General Vance’s command recently came forward testifying before the House of Commons Status of Women Committee that she and General Vance were at one time in a sexual relationship. She stated that if she was ever to come forward there would be consequences. Brennan went on to say that “the consequences were always the same - that I had to stay silent” (Neustaeter 2021:n.p.). This example illustrates the power differentials that exist within the ranks of today’s military and that misogynistic ideologies are deeply engrained within the culture impacting integration.  

                Von Hlatky (2019) states that, “female CAF members have described their experience of joining the military as ‘assimilation,’ rather than as ‘integration,’” meaning that they have to “conform to a male warrior culture or face professional and social exclusion” (78). Prior to and following the implementation of Operation Honour women experience the ‘glass floor’ (Tait 2014), a concept whereby the burden of proof is constantly in place forcing women to validate their existence within the CAF through their performance, while at the same time dealing with sexually inappropriate behaviour by those in positions of authority (McCristall 2020). Women and men enter on the same plane, but women experience more difficulty and tend to lack a firm footing whereby men do not experience the same treatment.

                While some women do tip the balance of power and rise up through the ranks of the military, others experience marginalization, harassment and sexually inappropriate behaviour directly impacting their integration (Taber 2017). Historically, adapting into military culture required women to be careful and cautious strategizing their movements within the dominant group attempting to avoid unnecessary criticism and harassment by the men, as well as the leadership, with whom they served. Goffman (1959) suggests that the roles which people play need to appear sincere, there needs to be “belief in the part one is playing [:]” therefore,

    When an individual plays a part [s]he implicitly requests [her] observers to take seriously the impression that is fostered before them. They are asked to believe that the character they see actually possesses the attributes [s]he appears to possess, that the tasks [s]he performs will have the consequences that are implicitly claimed for it, and that, in general, matters are what they appear to be (17).

    Unfortunately, for many women their efforts were never met with praise, with one participant stating that “men were appreciated more … [and that] there’s a lot of blatant sexism” in the military (McCristall 2020). Recent allegations against General Vance and a separate investigation of sexual inappropriate behaviour by Admiral Art McDonald affirm this claim and support the idea that inappropriate behaviour does not just occur within the lower ranks, but a level of authoritative abuse exists within the high ranks of the CAF.  

                In short, both the CAF and DND embed a toxic masculine culture that impacts integration. Additionally, there are also problems with respect to reporting mechanisms within the military. Due to power differentials within military culture and the lack of safety measures that preserve anonymity, many women fear that reporting inappropriate behaviour is ineffective, particularly because the system is unable to maintain the anonymity of those impacted. It is also thought to provide only a false sense of security (McCristall 2020). Many respondents who had been targets of inappropriate sexualized behaviour stated that they did not report their victimization for fear of being identified as a whistle-blower and, therefore, risking potential retribution by those within the reporting chain of command. There were cases wherein the person to whom women might otherwise report inappropriate behaviour was, in fact, the person committing the sexual misconduct (Statistics Canada 2016). Women choose not to complain because there is a perception that their career then becomes that complaint. According to McCristall (2020), those who do not report harassment tend not to endure the same targeting nor the career stalling tactics as those who do report. When exiting the military, some women who did report sexualized inappropriate behaviour versus those who did not report tended to have difficulty transitioning out of the military into a civilian role.

                In conclusion, the information presented lends credence to the effects of different forms of harassment and the experiences that some women endure while attempting to integrate into the military. The key implication is the need for additional reform with respect to women’s standing and their experiences while serving. Previous initiatives such as Operation Honour have fallen short as some women continue to feel unwelcomed and are forced to assimilate to ideologies that reflect the ideal masculinized soldier. The implementation of new policy needs to incorporate progressive measures designed to promote inclusiveness and equitable working environments within the CAF and DND. In short, there is a dire need for a dramatic cultural shift within the Canadian military.  



    Deschamps, Marie, Canada. Department of National Defence, and Canadian Electronic Library (Firm). External Review into Sexual Misconduct and Sexual Harassment in the Canadian Armed Forces. Canadian Electronic Library, Ottawa, Ontario, 2015. 1-88.

    Goffman, Erving. 1959. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. New York: Anchor Books, Doubleday.

    Grenier, Eric. 2020. “When it Comes to Leadership, Canada’s Political Parties Aren’t Getting More Diverse.” CBC News. Retrieved June 20, 2020. (

    Herbert, Melissa. 1998. Camouflage Isn't Only for Combat: Gender, Sexuality, and Women in the Military. New York, NY: NYU Press.

    McCristall, Philip, and Katherine Baggaley. 2019. “The Progressions of a Gendered Military: A Theoretical Examination of Gender Inequality in the Canadian Military.” Journal of Military, Veteran and Family Health 5(1):119-126. doi:10.3138/jmvfh.2017-0026.

    McCristall, Philip. 2020. “(In)Visible Systemic Injustice: A Qualitative Inquiry into Women’s Experiences of Gender Discrimination in the Canadian Military.” PhD dissertation, Department of Sociology, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario.

    Neustaeter, Brooklyn. 2021. “Woman at Centre of Sexual Misconduct Allegations Against Vance Tells House Committee He Fathered 2 of Her Kids.” CTVNews. Retrieved April 25, 2021.

    Statistics Canada 2016. Data Tables: 2016 Census. Last Updated June 17, 2019. Retrieved September 27, 2020
    ( td/Rpeng.cfm?TABID=2&LANG=E&APATH=3&DETAIL=0&DIM=0&FL=A&FREE=0&GC=01&GK=1&GRP=1&PID=110531&PRID=10&PTYPE=109445&S=0&SHOWAL L=0&SUB=0&Temporal=2017&THEME=120&VID=0&VNAMEE=&VNAMEF=).

    Taber, Nancy. 2017. “The Canadian Armed Forces: Battling between Operation Honour and Operation Hop on Her. Critical Military Studies:1-22. doi:10.1080/23337486.2017.1411117.

    Tait, Victoria. 2014. “Women in the Canadian Armed Forces Combat Arms: The Glass Floor Challenge.” Presented May 28, 2104 at the Canadian Political Science Association's annual meeting, Brock University, St. Catherines, ON.

    Von Hlatky, Stefanie. 2019. “The Gender Perspective and Canada’s Armed Forces.” Pp. 73-86 In Women and Gender Perspectives in the Military: An International Comparison, edited by Robert, Egnell, Mayesha, Alam, and Melannie, Verveer. Washington DC: Georgetown University Press.

  • February 2021: Highlighting the Need to Understand the Presence of Right-Wing Extremism Within the CAF
    Highlighting the Need to Understand the Presence of Right-Wing Extremism Within the CAF

    Written by Dr. Barbara Perry & Dr. David Hofmann

                Although right-wing extremism within the Canadian military is not a new phenomenon, Canadians’ attention was drawn to the issue on Canada Day in 2017, when five members of Proud Boys disrupted an Indigenous protest at a Cornwallis statue. Among them, three were later identified as active Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) personnel. Two years later, in 2019, Manitoba reservist Patrik Mathews was found to be actively recruiting for The Base, a violent neo-Nazi paramilitary group. After fleeing Canada, he was arrested in the U.S. on weapons charges related to apparent plans to provoke a civil war. Shortly after, on July 2, 2020, Corey Hurren – a Ranger reservist – rammed his truck through gates at Rideau Hall, the home of the Prime Minister and his family. He was armed with at least 4 guns, and claimed he wanted to “speak with” the Prime Minister. His social media history showed recent engagement with far right conspiracy theories. In February 2021, Seaman Boris Mihajlovic was released from the military as a result of his previous membership, indeed leadership, of the neo-Nazi forum Iron March, and the neo-Nazi group Blood and Honour. These series of escalating events involving CAF members who hold right-wing extremist views begs the question: are these extreme outliers within the CAF, or indicators of a deeper, wider problem?

                This very question was one of the prime motivations that led to the development of the Network for Research on Hateful Conduct and Right-Wing Extremism in the Canadian Armed Forces (RWE-CAF Research Network). To date, we have very limited insights into the extent to which former and active military personnel are engaged with the far right in Canada. An MPCIS in 2018 identified 53 individuals who had either perpetrated some form of hateful conduct, or had some level of involvement with extreme right-wing groups. Recent media reports have followed examples like those noted in the opening paragraph. Active far-right groups frequently make claims that they are actively recruiting former and active military personnel.  In fact, La Meute, a Quebec ethno-nationalist group, was founded by two former CAF members. However, to date, no systematic efforts have been made by academics to uncover the extent of the problem. That is a lacuna in knowledge that the RWE-CAF Research Network hopes to correct within the coming years.

                As noted above, the CAF has drawn public attention in the past couple of years due to several media reports that have uncovered white supremacist and right-wing extremist (RWE) beliefs among members of the Regular and Reserve Forces. Although the number of known cases of CAF members holding RWE beliefs is likely comparable to the general population, there is a real and pressing public concern over soldiers who embrace extremist beliefs. This is driven, in part, by the need to hold soldiers to a higher moral and ethical standard than the general public, given the expertise and training that are instilled in CAF members. Without this public trust, the CAF cannot operate efficiently as an active military force, and as an organization that employs 100,000 Canadians. Moreover, there is public concern about how the CAF has responded to those members identified as engaging in hateful conduct and right-wing extremism. Although strides have been made by CAF leadership to begin addressing this issue, it is not entirely clear what policy frameworks are currently in place that are specific to the sorts of phenomena included under this rubric. Our research focused network will allow us to assess both the risk of radicalization to right-wing extremism in the CAF, and to identify gaps in extant policy. Both are important starting points in building effective remedies.

    To this end, the core research questions for the network are:

    • Who among CAF members may be at increased risk of embracing RWE views?
    • How are RWE views disseminated through members of the CAF?
    • What is the extent of the links between members of the CAF and established RWE groups active in Canada?
    • Are CAF members more at risk of embracing RWE views when compared to the general population? If so, why?
    • What kind of empirically-grounded initiatives, resources, training, or information can the CAF use to prevent, identify, and combat the adoption of RWE views among its members?

                We have been fortunate to bring together a remarkable core of Canadian scholars bringing interdisciplinary expertise to the question of right-wing extremism in the CAF. It is led by Dr. Barbara Perry (Ontario Tech University) and Dr. David Hofmann (University of New Brunswick). The other team members come from coast to coast: Dr. Aurelie Campana (Universite de Laval); Dr. Samuel Tanner (Universite de Montreal); Dr. Leah West (Queen’s University); Dr. John McCoy, Dr. David Jones, Dr. Michael King (University of Alberta); and Dr. Garth Davies (Simon Fraser University). We are also happy to host Dr. Philip McCristall and Dr. Carmen Celestini (Ontario Tech University) as Post-Doc Fellows. The team consists of some of Canada’s leading methodological and substantive experts across multiple disciplines. Among the partners, no less than eight academic disciplines are represented, comprising criminologists, sociologists, psychologists, historians, legal scholars, public policy scholars, political scientists, and security/terrorism scholars. Network members also possess expertise with the dominant qualitative, quantitative, and mixed-methodological approaches, as well as facility with cutting-edge methodologies such as social network analysis.

                The events of January 6, 2021 in Washington DC underscore the importance of enhancing our understanding and acknowledgement of the intersection of right-wing extremism and military service. Estimates suggest that as many as one in five of those arrested for their participation in the “insurrection” have a current or former record of service. The violence that characterized that day points to the dangers of combining military training, arms and extreme right ideologies. It is our aim to shed light on similar dynamics at home in Canada so that we are in a better position to predict, deflect and respond to parallel threats.