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Poppies are seen on the National War Memorial after Remembrance Day ceremonies, in Ottawa on Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

David Pratt is a former minister of national defence.

No one articulated the malevolence of Hitlerism, and all that it stood for, better than Winston Churchill.

In his famous “Finest Hour” speech in June, 1940, after the harrowing evacuation of allied forces from Dunkirk, and with the fate of Europe hanging in the balance, Churchill speculated that “if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.”

As we approach another Remembrance Day, we can say a prayer of thanks to the greatest generation, which confronted and defeated these threats and ideologies. Aryan supremacy, anti-Semitism, eugenics and the absurd and discredited theories of the master race – the foundations of Nazism – were beaten.

But unfortunately, those ideas did not perish with Hitler in his bunker in April, 1945. Those lights still flicker in the ideologies and dogma of the extreme right and those who traffic in hate.

Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan, along with a number of army, navy and air force commanders, have vowed to address the problems of neo-Nazism, hateful conduct, racism and extremism in the ranks. These efforts should be applauded. But, however good the intentions, the words must be supported by sustained and heightened vigilance if we are to defend a vital institution from an insidious threat.

The Canadian Forces and its reputation for fighting aggression, oppression and poisonous ideas are too important to our country and our values to have that legacy tarnished by a scattered few with extremist views.

Officers and non-commissioned members must be on guard to ensure that instances of membership in, support for, or identification with groups such as the Proud Boys, the Three Percenters, Blood and Honour, Aryan Guard, the Sons of Odin and Iron March will not be tolerated. It should be grounds for a release from the Forces, on the basis of being “unsuitable for further service” under the Queen’s Regulations and Orders.

The recruitment phase must ensure new members are properly vetted and that they understand the history, values and ethics of the Forces. New recruits should also undertake to uphold those values and ethics in their professional and personal lives. Canadians have a right to expect that those who have a monopoly on the use of force will not just defend equality, justice, human rights and the rule of law but, to the best of their ability, promote it, too.

The Forces have made important strides – some successful, some less so – to increase the racial and gender diversity of serving members. They have also consistently conveyed a strong anti-racism message. But there is still much more work to be done. The Canadian Forces must strive for the highest standards of honour, service and duty and reflect a mirror image of what is best about Canada.

We should never forget the devastating impact that racism had on the Canadian Forces in the 1990s with the Somalia Affair and the disbanding of the Canadian Airborne Regiment. That sad and destructive episode must never be repeated. Even one neo-Nazi, white supremacist or racist in the ranks is too many.

Veterans Affairs Canada estimates there are about 30,000 veterans of the Second World War still alive out of the more than one million who served in uniform. I wish I could ask the Canadian veterans of the Second World War that I knew personally – the fathers of friends of mine – what they thought of neo-Nazis in the Forces. Phil Pochailo, a pilot officer in a Lancaster bomber who survived being shot down over Holland; Jack Wallace, who lost a leg in a tank battle in Italy; Gib Layeux, who served on HMCS Strathadam hunting U-boats in the waters off France – these men have all passed away. But if they were alive today, I can easily imagine, with expletives included, the words they would have for Nazi sympathizers in the organizations they served.

As Canadians, one of our national objectives should be to eliminate the virus of racism and anti-Semitism and to protect our vital institutions from the odious ideas of the far right. The Canadian Forces leadership should not rest until those who are the torch bearers for extremism are purged from the ranks and the lights of perverted science are, finally and conclusively, snuffed out.

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