The recent arrest of a Canadian neo-Nazi on the run in the United States should embarrass the federal government — and not just for the obvious reasons.

Last week former Canadian Forces engineer Patrik Mathews pled not guilty to gun charges, a month after he was arrested by the FBI. The prosecution says he called for the poisoning of water supplies and derailment of trains in order to provoke conflict leading to the creation of a white ethnostate. Mathews had fled southward in August after he was outed as a recruiter for The Base, a neo-Nazi group that helped him go underground in the U.S.

Ottawa supported the U.S.-backed coup against Yanukovych.

Mathews’s case, of course, highlights concern about white supremacists in the Canadian Forces. While the issue has received recent attention, it’s as old as the Canadian military. Many commentators point to the 1990s Somalia affair, when Canadian soldiers tortured and murdered a Somali teenager while on a humanitarian mission, but up to the end of World War II, Royal Canadian Navy policy said that “candidates must be of pure European descent.” In other words, the problem of racism in the Canadian Forces is structural and longstanding, never having been properly acknowledged and dealt with.

But there is another angle to Mathews’s arrest that should concern every Canadian worried about the rise of the far right. The Base has ties to the most well-organized neo-Nazis in the world — whom Ottawa has not only failed to condemn, but in fact bolstered.

Ukraine’s ultranationalists

In 2014 the far right benefited from the right-wing nationalist EuroMaidan movement that ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych. Ottawa supported the U.S.-backed coup against Yanukovych, who was oscillating between the European Union and Russia. In July 2015 the Canadian Press reported that opposition protesters were camped in the Canadian Embassy for a week during the February 2014 rebellion against Yanukovych. And since the mid-2000s, Canada has provided significant support to right-wing, nationalist opponents of Russia in Ukraine.

Out of the EuroMaidan movement came ultranationalist paramilitaries Azov Battalion and Right Sector, which “electrified the neo-Nazi movement” in North America and Europe, notes commentator Jordan Green. The war in Ukraine has attracted many extremists and white supremacists, who see it as a training ground and travel there to meet with ultranationalists.

Canada also funds, equips, and trains the neo-Nazi–infiltrated National Police of Ukraine.

“The Base and its leader wanted to form concrete links between Ukrainian ultra-nationalist military units and the global neo-Nazi movement,” says a recent Vice article. One member of The Base arrested alongside Mathews sought to fight in Ukraine, according to the prosecution.

Mollie Saltskog, an intelligence analyst at Soufan Center, which researches global security, compared the extreme right’s ties to Ukraine to Al Qaeda’s nesting grounds. “The conflict in eastern Ukraine is to the white supremacists what Afghanistan was to the Salafi-jihadists in the 80’s and 90’s,” she told Vice. “Remember, al-Qaeda, for which the English translation is ‘The Base,’ was born out of the conflict in Afghanistan.”

Military and police support

Canada provides both military and police support to Ukraine. As part of Operation UNIFIER, 200 Canadian members of the military — rotated every six months — work with Ukrainian forces that have integrated right-wing militias. Colonel Brian Irwin, Canada’s defence attaché in Kiev, met with officers of the Azov Battalion in 2018. According to Azov, which wears the Nazi Wolfsangel symbol and extols officials who helped murder Jews and Poles during World War II, Canadian military officials concluded the briefing by expressing “their hopes for further fruitful cooperation.”

Trudeau was photographed with Ukrainian speaker of the Parliament Andriy Parubiy, a leader of the far right who had founded a party with Nazi branding.

Alongside the U.S., Canada also funds, equips, and trains the neo-Nazi–infiltrated National Police of Ukraine, which was founded in 2015 to replace the former regime’s police force. A former deputy commander of the Azov Battalion, Vadim Troyan, has had a series of senior positions in the National Police of Ukraine, including acting chief. And early last year, when a police officer was recorded disparaging a far-right protester as a supporter of Stepan Bandera — who aligned with the Nazi occupation during World War II, carrying out murderous campaigns against Poles and Jews — the National Police chief, a National Police spokesperson, an Interior Ministry advisor, and others repudiated the officer by publicly professing their admiration for the Nazi collaborator.

Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion announced $8.1 million in funding for the National Police of Ukraine in 2016. Canada has provided the force with thousands of uniforms and cameras and helped establish the country’s first national police academy. Canada committed up to 20 police officers to help the Ukrainian police in 2016. By July 2019 that commitment had more than doubled to 45 officers and the deployment was extended to 2021.

War proxy

The Ukrainian government has included a number of neo-Nazis over the past few years. During his 2016 trip to Ukraine, Trudeau was photographed with Ukrainian speaker of the Parliament Andriy Parubiy, a leader of the far right who had founded a party with Nazi branding. Liberal and other party politicians in Canada have also attended festivals and marched in parades featuring contingents supporting Ukraine’s Right Sector, which has described itself as “defending the values of white, Christian Europe.”

While they talk about the danger of the far right, the Liberals have voted against a UN resolution titled “Combating glorification of Nazism, neo-Nazism and other practices that contribute to fuelling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance” because they thought it targeted Ukraine. In 2015 a draft of the resolution was opposed only by Canada, the U.S., Palau and Ukraine. Last November another vote on the draft resolution was held — Canada abstained while only the U.S. and Ukraine voted against it.

At this point it seems unlikely that far-right groups like The Base will gain significant traction in Canada. But if they do, it will be in part due to blowback from Canadian policy that views Ukraine as a proxy in Washington’s campaign to weaken Russia. Don’t expect the Canadian corporate media to report on this angle of Patrik Mathews’s arrest though.

Yves Engler’s latest book is House of Mirrors: Justin Trudeau’s Foreign Policy.