Commander of reserve unit being probed for far-right activity is being replaced

The commander of a troubled military reserve unit at the centre of an army investigation into far-right extremist activity is being replaced, CBC News has learned.

Lt.-Col. Russ Meades, who leads the 4th Canadian Ranger Patrol Group (4CRPG), delivered the news to the unit on Friday, defence sources said.

He will remain in charge of the unit until June, when a member of the regular force will take over command of the Esquimalt, B.C.-based headquarters, said sources — who spoke to CBC News on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case publicly.

Meades was informed of the decision by his immediate superior, Brig.-Gen. Bill Fletcher. The change of command was sanctioned by the commander of the Canadian Army, Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre.

The Esquimalt headquarters — which oversees Ranger patrols in British Columbia, Alberta and Manitoba — came under scrutiny last summer when an armed member of the Swan River Patrol, Master-Cpl. Corey Hurren, was arrested and accused of crashing his truck into the gates of Rideau Hall and threatening the prime minister.

Image from the Facebook page of Corey Hurren. (GrindHouse Fine Foods/Facebook)

A subsequent CBC News investigation revealed that military intelligence had been warned about another reservist, Cpl. Erik Myggland, and his open support for and online promotion of two far-right groups: the Soldiers of Odin and the Three Percent survivalist militia movement.

Myggland’s activities were known to the leadership of the 4th Ranger Patrol Group and the army opened an investigation into the unit after the CBC News story was published.

That special investigation has been completed, but its findings have not been released publicly.

Probe looking at extent of far-right sympathies in unit

The review looked at why Myggland, who served in Valemount, B.C., was not released from the military when his activities became known, and to what extent far-right sympathies were shared throughout the unit.

On Friday, the army confirmed the plan to replace Lt.-Col. Meades but sought to put some distance between the decision and the investigation, presenting it as a routine matter.

“As part of career planning, progression and the annual rotation of personnel, the Canadian Army intends to change the Commanding Officer of 4 Canadian Ranger Patrol Group, based in Esquimalt, B.C., in the summer of 2021,” Brig.-Gen. Fletcher said in a brief written statement.

Meades still has one year left in his reserve contract, according to sources. Fletcher’s statement did not say where Meades would be stationed or in what capacity he would finish out his service.

Word of Meades’ replacement comes just a few days after the deadline passed for members of the unit to complete a survey about their working environment. The survey asked members of 4 CRPG to disclose whether they had encountered far-right extremist views during their time with the unit.

A spokesperson for the Canadian Army was not immediately available to comment.

On the day the commander’s impending departure was announced, the Department of National Defence released a glossy Facebook video highlighting the 4th Ranger group’s activities in support of pandemic relief. The video included an interview with Meades.

The military probe and the far-right controversy were not mentioned in that video.

Last October, however, Meades and his chief warrant officer took part in an online town hall, during which he read out an order from the commander of the army directing all troops to be aware of and report incidents of hateful conduct.

“Discrimination in any form is entirely inappropriate,” he said.

The army has turned down requests to interview Meades.

Myggland’s anti-government online rhetoric — which included one post that referred to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as “treasonous bastard” — was laced with pro-gun rights advocacy and opposition to the Liberal government’s recent firearms legislation.

Anxiety and anger over firearms law

The new firearms legislation, C-71, was also a theme of a letter allegedly left by Hurren near Rideau Hall and recovered by the RCMP after the July 2 incident outside the governor general’s residence.

Complaints about C-71 appear to have been pervasive throughout the Rangers unit.

Online posts by the group’s former honorary colonel — writer, outdoor enthusiast and television personality Jim Shockey — surfaced in the course of the CBC News investigation.

In a Facebook essay in the fall of 2018, he attacked C-71. Posing beside an empty House of Commons chair, Shockey denounced Liberal MPs for not meeting with him to discuss the legislation.

CBC News reached out to Shockey for comment last fall but received no response.

CBC News also made multiple attempts to interview Myggland. He declined, but he spoke at length to his hometown news publication, The Rocky Mountain Goat. 

He told the community weekly that he was allowed to stay in the military because he had done nothing wrong.

Myggland claimed CBC News coverage of his story had been biased and had failed to cite his years of community service working with troubled teenagers and teaching self-defence courses to women, among other things.

He was slated to be released from the army this month.

Hurren is still in custody awaiting court proceedings. There is no indication he knew Myggland since the two served in different patrols, in different provinces.