The Canadian military’s counterintelligence branch was alerted to the right-wing online activities of a B.C. reservist by a member of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance and the criminal intelligence branch of an Ontario municipal police service, CBC News has learned.
Those warnings are becoming central to the army’s efforts — unsuccessful to date — to kick Erik Myggland out of the Canadian Rangers.
They also raise more troubling questions about why Myggland was allowed to remain in the Rangers after being identified as an open, fervent supporter of both the Soldiers of Odin — a white supremacist group with roots in Europe — and the Three Percenters, a survivalist militia that originated in the U.S.
Multiple sources with knowledge of the case say the tips led the military’s counterintelligence branch, with the support of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), to investigate Myggland and his ex-wife as possible security threats.
CBC News is not identifying the sources because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the file, the nature of the intelligence shared or where it came from.
Not surprising, still ‘alarming’
A U.S. expert said, however, that the American intelligence community would have had specific concerns about Myggland because he was a reservist involved with two different extremist groups at a time when evidence was emerging that at least one U.S. far-right group — The Base — was taking its orders from a group in St. Petersburg, Russia.
“There is always open intelligence sharing among the Five Eyes, but they don’t flag things that are not significant,” said Alexander Ross, a professor at Portland State University’s Centre for the Analysis of the Radical Right. The Five Eyes is an intelligence-sharing alliance between Canada, the U.S., New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Australia.
“I don’t find [the case] surprising per se,” Ross added, “but I would find it alarming if I was the Canadian armed services.”
The Canadian military’s counterintelligence branch did conduct an investigation of Myggland in 2017. It concluded that while Myggland held extreme views and shared them widely online, he did not constitute a direct threat to the armed service.
Significantly, the confidential sources said, the counterintelligence team did not recommend Myggland’s removal from the reserve unit.
Americans on the alert
The Americans are “much more alive ” to the threat of right-wing extremism and more aggressive in monitoring it than agencies on this side of the border, said a Canadian expert who has written extensively about the emerging threat.
“They’re constrained a lot more in terms of what they’re able to collect,” David Hofmann of the University of New Brunswick said of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), the country’s electronic intelligence agency.
“Their efforts to monitor these groups are not nearly as comprehensive as the United States, which has a lot more permissive (surveillance) laws.”
The Department of National Defence (DND) has turned down multiple requests by the CBC for an interview with the commander of military intelligence, Rear-Admiral Scott Bishop.
DND also has refused to discuss the results of an ongoing investigation into the 4th Canadian Ranger Group — an investigation launched after CBC News revealed that Myggland has been a member of both the Three Percenters and the Soldiers of Odin.
DND did release details about the process used in the special investigation, including the fact that the team interviewed 110 witnesses from 17 different patrols.
“We will be amenable to discussing specific details of the [special investigation] only after we have fully examined the report, [and] determined the actions we will take,” said a DND statement released to CBC News.
CSIS spokeperson John Townsend said the spy agency takes reports of extremism very seriously but does not “publicly comment, or confirm or deny the specifics of our investigations, operational interests, methodologies or activities in order to maintain the integrity of our operations.”
Military counterintelligence officers investigating Myggland appeared to come to the conclusion that he was naive and did not fully understand the groups he’d become involved with, said the sources.
That notion appears to have been torn apart by Myggland himself in a recent interview with his hometown publication in Valemount, B.C. Myggland told the paper he tried to shut down “some racist —kers” who commented on the Three Percenter Facebook page. He claimed in that interview to have tried to take “the reins” of the Three Percenter chapter and turn it into a survivalist group.
His online posts and photos — which include one reference to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as a “treasonous bastard” — showed up in a CBC News investigation of the 4th Canadian Ranger Group. That investigation was initiated after another member of the 4th Canadian Ranger Group, Corey Hurren, was accused of crashing his truck into the gates of Rideau Hall and making threats against the prime minister.
CBC News reached out to Myggland on several occasions before its first story on him was published in late August. He initially agreed to talk but then went silent.
After publication of the interview with his local weekly, CBC News again reached out to Myggland to verify his remarks and offer him the opportunity to comment on his online posts and involvement with both groups.
Myggland refused to be interviewed by CBC News. In an email, however, he claimed that coverage of his story has been biased and has failed to cite his years of community service working with troubled teenagers and teaching self-defence courses to women, and his work with the Rangers and the local volunteer fire service, which he said included 400 emergency responses and life-saving calls.
He denied having done anything wrong and refused to speak further.
Significantly, the military’s probe of the 4th Canadian Ranger Group — which is now complete but has not been released publicly — did not have a mandate to look into the decisions of military counterintelligence.
Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre, commander of the Canadian Army, said in September that Myggland would be released from the military. As of Friday, however, Myggland remained on the reserve unit’s roster.
“The Canadian Army intent to release [Master-Cpl.] Myggland has not changed or diminished. We simply must ensure he is afforded the same treatment as any other member whom we intend to release,” said a DND statement.
“The details of this process related to any particular case are protected under the Privacy Act, so we cannot comment further. Based on current projections, we estimate that the release of [Master Cpl.] Myggland will be finalized in January 2021.”
That process would involve an administrative review of his file.
Speaking in late September to his hometown publication, the Rocky Mountain Goat, Myggland said he was “fine with being released” but not with being dropped for membership in a “hate group.”
“I can’t stand for that because it is absolutely rubbish,” he said.
Is the military pushing for a ‘misconduct’ release?
That suggests, in the eyes of some experts, that the army may be pursuing some form of “misconduct” or “dismissal with disgrace” release — and that Myggland is fighting back under the review process accorded to all soldiers.
Retired lieutenant-colonel Rory Fowler, a former military lawyer now in private practice, said DND has a number of significant hurdles to overcome in proving any case of misconduct in the absence of a criminal conviction or an administrative finding against the individual.
Depending upon the category of the release, he said (there are five such categories), the military would have to prove it tried and failed to rehabilitate the soldier or to overcome their “performance deficiency.”
“So if you can’t justify the decision that you’re making, then the decision is presumably unreasonable. And if it’s unreasonably unreasonable, one could argue it’s also unlawful,” said Fowler.
The consequences of a misconduct notation could affect a soldier’s ability to rejoin the military at some point in the future, or in another capacity, and would strip them of a chance to get the security clearance required for jobs in the federal public service.
After the Myggland case went public, the army, navy and air force issued specific orders on combating hateful conduct in the ranks.
Defence Minister Harhit Sajjan also promised a Forces-wide policy but has yet to deliver the plan — much to the frustration of the human rights groups that have been demanding action for months.
Jaime Kirzner-Roberts, policy director at the Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said it’s time the military lived up to its high-minded language.
“We’re definitely looking to see the Armed Forces take decisive action in an expeditious time frame with respect to this one extremist, and as well as others that still remain in the Armed Forces,” she said.
“We have seen, and are continuing to see, individuals that are known to be involved in hate and extremist groups being investigated for long periods of time, with these investigations going on and on without clear outcomes or results.”