Navy apologizes for Indigenous ceremony incident
HALIFAX — The commander of Canada’s East Coast Navy has apologized to the Aboriginal community for a Canada Day confrontation in which Armed Forces members disrupted a ceremony in Halifax.
Rear Admiral John Newton said he has spoken to five men who approached a spiritual event honouring the suffering of Indigenous peoples at a statue of Halifax’s controversial founder, Edward Cornwallis.
The group were clad in black polo shirts with yellow piping — one of them carrying a Red Ensign Flag — as they approached singing “God Save the Queen,” according to one Mi’kmaq organizer. The Canadian Red Ensign, which bears the Union Jack in the corner, was the national flag until it was replaced by the Maple Leaf design in 1965.
The men said they were members of the Proud Boys, a self-declared group of “Western Chauvinists.”
“I told the young people they had crossed a line where their personal beliefs, their personal ideology — which they are allowed to have — got into the public domain,” Newton, commander of Maritime Forces Atlantic, said Tuesday, standing at the edge of a jetty at HMC Dockyard.
“Their personal beliefs, whether religious, political or white supremacy, whatever the Proud Boys represent, it’s not a shared value of the Canadian Armed Forces.”
He said six members of the military, including members of the Royal Canadian Navy, the Canadian army and a member of a cadet organization, were involved. They will face an administrative process and a separate process under the military justice system, he said.
“I apologize for the actions of my young sailors, and ... I hope that those young people will find a moment to make their own apologies in due course.”
Newton said he received complaints from Aboriginal friends, and there was a “considerable outcry” from serving members of the Forces.
“We have such a very open and inclusive message. It helps to stabilize conflict around the world,” he said.
“Those values are very much at stake in an incident like this.”
A spokesperson for Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said his office is following the matter closely.
Cornwallis, as governor of Nova Scotia, founded Halifax in 1749, and soon after issued a bounty on Mi’kmaq scalps in response to an attack on colonists.
A video of the Canada Day incident at the Cornwallis statue shows five men interacting with spectators at the ceremony.
“This is a British colony,” one of the men says in the video.
“You’re recognizing the heritage and so are we.”