Harjit Sajjan orders crackdown as Canadian Forces Fb page features racist, vulgar comments

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan speaks at an announcement on fighter jets at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has ordered a crackdown on the growing number of racist and misogynist comments on the Canadian Forces’ official Facebook Page

Though the Forces have a team of dedicated social media staffers, the comments have become so toxic at times that one member of the public observed the “comment section around here reads like a Sons of Odin chat room,” a reference to a far-right, anti-immigration group.

In January, the Canadian Forces tried to reason with readers of the Facebook page, posting a plea to those commenting not to make death threats or remarks that are hateful, sexist, racist or homophobic. But the request itself prompted racist and other inappropriate comments aimed at Sajjan.

Sajjan, the country’s first Sikh defence minister, is among the most frequent targets. Many commenters accuse him of being a liar or a soldier who has “stolen valour,” because of  his claims last year to have been the architect of a major offensive against the Taliban.

An individual wrote, “I still can’t take this guy seriously as head of the armed forces.Man, it’s not us! Sikh?”

Another commented that he only comes to the Canadian Forces Facebook page to see what the Sajjan “haters” post.

News media organizations such as Postmedia deal with similar issues of inappropriate comments, with varying degrees of success, on their website sites and Facebook pages. However, the military employs four full-time members of staff to monitor and moderate social media activity during working hours, while a fifth does so during off-hours and on the weekend. Department of National Defence spokeswoman Ashley Lemire explained that the Facebook page is actively monitored. “But sometimes we miss posts,” she acknowledged. Indeed, the official page is peppered with a wide range of inappropriate comments, some which are months old.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has at times been described as a “turd” and a “traitor.” Sajjan is called a “coward” and a “disgrace to Canada,” among more racially charged terms. One comment describes another person using a vulgar term for female genitalia. Another complains about planeloads of Mexicans arriving daily in Calgary.

The page features claims the Liberal government is funding the Islamic State in Iraq. Some commenters question the need to highlight the contribution of black soldiers during Black History Month, while others complain about racial and gender policies in the Canadian military.