What makes a Canadian join forces fighting in a war zone?
The Mounties put that question to Dillon Hillier, 28, after he got back from Iraqi Kurdistan last year. At the time, he had just spent three months fighting alongside factions out to reclaim territory seized by the Islamic State group.
Prior to that, Mr. Hillier, the son of rural Ontario MPP Randy Hillier, had spent five relatively uneventful years with the Canadian Forces. He was only getting reacquainted with a workaday life as a civilian when the terror group known as IS – also commonly referred to as ISIS – started capturing swaths of Iraq and Syria.
Then, in October, 2014, the Canadian sympathizers of IS killed two Canadian Forces soldiers. Weeks later, Mr. Hillier was on a plane overseas hoping to battle the terror group.
Making a name for himself as a new breed of vigilante soldier savvy in social media, he became something of a controversial cause célèbre for publicly encouraging other veterans to join him. He put battle footage he shot with a GoPro camera up on YouTube. He started an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to acquire military-grade night-vision goggles.
Now, comes his memoir, One Soldier.
He says his stint, about a dozen weeks long, was cut short by the Canadian government pressuring the Kurds to pull him from the front lines. But this was still long enough to shoot and kill several IS fighters as a newly minted ally of Iraqi Kurd peshmerga fighters. Mr. Hillier also writes he temporarily joined more violent fighters with the Kurdish PKK, an entity banned as a terrorist group in Canada.
When the Mounties interviewed Mr. Hillier about all of this upon his return, the RCMP never alleged he broke any laws.
Rather, “they just wanted to understand my motivations for going and see if there was any kind of link between my motivations and would-be Canadian jihadists’ motivations,” he said.
That line of questioning was a stretch, he said. “Maybe they [jihadis] feel in their twisted minds that going to commit genocide is helping their cause,” he says, adding that “I just wanted to help people of all stripes.”
Mr. Hillier now works in investment banking.
What did the Canadian Forces have you doing in Afghanistan [in 2013]?
I wasn’t involved in the training mission. I was just convoy security, essentially.
What comes through in the book is the adrenaline of being on the front lines.
I wanted to test my individual soldier skills but I wouldn’t have gone and fought in Ukraine. I felt like the Kurds were doing a good job of defending humanity as a whole, not just Kurds.
Was the plan always to go for three months?
I had initially intended on staying substantially longer. But I would have been relegated to a security or close-protection type role.
I wanted to be out there. I want to be defending towns against ISIS. I wanted to be clearing towns of ISIS so people could return to their homes.
Why did you publicize your mission as you were going?
Together with this group of people I was talking to online, we had the idea we were going to go and form a Western unit. Maybe 10, maybe 20, maybe more. I wanted to show people it could be done.
The motivation to do media was to attract more people. And it did attract a lot of people.
At one point your family tells you you’ll be considered a mercenary if you go. Are you a mercenary?
No, I was not a mercenary. You have to have material gain. I sold my car, I sold all my belongings to finance this trip.
Tell me about what you call the “unlucky” people you killed in combat.
Well, people that got shot. People that died. I don’t know exactly why I chose those words. It just seemed appropriate, I guess.
Every soldier skill that I learned definitely helped in the fight there. But luck had a part to play as well.
You write about being with a PKK faction clearing a village, when a guy answering the door of his house gets killed on the spot, his kids watching behind him.
That was really troubling. It’s awful. It was a tragic mistake that would have been avoided had that patrol been Canadian soldiers.
The soldier that shot him was no older than 18. Just scared.
Had they had the proper training and discipline, that wouldn’t have happened. But they don’t.
Do we want more people in Canada doing what you did? Is it worth it in the end?
I have a question for you: Should more or less Canadians have gone and fought against [General Francisco] Franco’s fascists [during the 1930s Spanish Civil War]?
Do you ever think about getting on a plane again?
Would you ever get into politics? It’s a bit like the family business, isn’t it?
I’d rather go back and fight. I can’t see a time in my life right now that I would want to be in politics. But things change, right?
This interview has been edited and condensed.Report Typo/Error