There are a lot of ironies in the current controversy about the “Halifax Five”-- a group of off-duty Canadian military men who showed up at an aboriginal protest ceremony in Halifax’s Cornwallis Park on Canada Day. They--the sailors and a soldier--were all wearing black t-shirts, and carrying a Red Ensign. Apparently they were members of the “Proud Boys,” a voluntary association founded by YouTube commentator Gavin McInnes.
Although they wore what looked like a kind of uniform—sinister, to my mind—the Proud Boys were, so far as I can see from the video evidence, unfailingly polite, despite verbal provocation by some of the “aboriginal” demonstrators. They were just asking questions, smiling all the time. They left, when the protesters demanded that they leave—despite the fact that they were in a public park.
So who is in trouble now? Not the protesters, who demanded that they leave; not the protesters, who were verbally hostile. No, the military guys. They are now “under investigation,” suspended from their duties, and may lose their jobs and military careers.
"The members involved will be removed from training and duties while we conduct an investigation and review the circumstances. Their future in the military is certainly in doubt,” General Jonathan Vance, chief of defense staff, announced to the press. He added an apology to Canadian aboriginals. Defense Minister Sajjan added his own condemnation: “I want to give you my personal assurance that this kind of behaviour will not be tolerated within the ranks of the Canadian Armed Forces and the Department of National Defence.”
This is insane.
The focus of the original demonstration was to complain about General Edward Cornwallis, after whom the park is named. It was held before his statue.
|The Halifax Cornwallis statue|
Cornwallis is the founder of Halifax, and first British governor of Nova Scotia. Reason enough, one might think, for him to be commemorated.
But, according to the protesters, he is guilty of “genocide.” Because he issued a proclamation in 1749 offering a bounty on Micmac scalps: men, women, or children.
This would indeed be an atrocity by European standards. But how can the Micmac protest? This was their standard practice when waging war. Cornwallis was only fighting on the same terms. To condemn Cornwallis and not the Indians would be like condemning the French and not the Germans for the use of poison gas in World War I.
Was the intent genocide? No. The British and the Micmac were at war. The Micmac had begun it; according to a message to Cornwallis, they were objecting to British settlement at Halifax, which they claimed as their land.
Problem: the Micmac had already agreed with the English to the Peace and Friendship Treaty of 1725. According to this treaty, the Micmac formally submitted to the sovereignty of the English king.
“Whereas, His Majesty King George, by concession of the Most Christian King, made at the Treaty of Utrecht, is become the rightful possessor of the Province of Nova Scotia or Acadia ... do, in the name and behalf of the Nations we represent, acknowledge His said Majesty King George's jurisdiction and dominion over the territories of the said Province of Nova Scotia or Acadia, and make our submission to His said Majesty in as ample manner as we have formerly done to the King of France.”
They further swore not to disturb any English possessions: present or future.
“And, we further promise, on behalf of the Nations we represent, that the Indians shall not molest any of His Majesty's Subjects or their dependents in their Settlements already made or lawfully to be made, or in their carrying on their traffic and other affairs within the said Provinces.”
If the Micmac had a complaint, they had promised to submit it to British law:
“That, in case of any misunderstanding, quarrel or injury between the English and the Indians, no private revenge shall be taken, but application shall be made for redress, according to His Majesty's Laws.”
In other words, the Indians were breaking treaty. In now going to war, they were not legitimate combatants, but rebels in arms, committing treason.
Cornwallis could, actually, be plausibly accused of genocide. Just not here. Just not against the Indians. Against the Scots. He fought at the Battle of Culloden, on the Hanoverian side, and in the mopping up after the battle committed many atrocities. He would lock entire families of Highland Scots in their homes, then set them on fire.
“Cornwallis led 320 soldiers to pacify an area of the Western Highlands. Suspected Jacobite families were boarded into homes and burned to death. Properties were looted, livestock were chased off, and crops were destroyed.” – Canadian Encyclopedia
Ironically, in Nova Scotia—New Scotland—heavily settled by Highland Scots, nobody has objected on these grounds to honouring Cornwallis. Instead, it is the Micmac, with no particular beef, who do.
Just goes to show who is in charge.