By Scott Taylor
What started out as an almost comical, albeit embarrassing incident in Halifax has led the Canadian Armed Forces to once again amend their policy on individual service members’ deportment.
This whole saga began last June in a Tim Horton’s outlet when a member of the Royal Canadian Navy was observed displaying a contentious tattoo on his right forearm. An offended civilian patron quick-wittedly snapped a photo of the tattoo, which had the word ‘infidel’ graphically, altered into the shape of an assault rifle.
As the sailor was in work dress uniform, complete with a ball cap displaying the name of the ship to which he was assigned, this did not require the detective skills of Sherlock Holmes to identify the culprit once the images were made public. The sailor was subsequently questioned by his superiors as to the symbolic meaning of his inked image. According to the official RCN response, the sailor meant no offense to any religion or culture. However, in light of the commotion caused by the social media coverage of this incident, the sailor has agreed to tattoo over the contentious image at his own expense.
So case closed: Chalk another one up to the fact that the CAF is an organization composed of fallible human beings capable of poor judgment on occasion?
Not so fast. Although they insist that the timing is purely coincidental – and definitely not in response to the Tim Horton’s incident - the CAF have just brought in a whole series of new directives regarding tattoos.
The new guidelines were issued on Monday 12, August, by the office of General Jonathan Vance, Chief of the Defence Staff. Military members were warned that anything considered to be sexually explicit, discriminatory, racist, extremist, homophobic, misogynistic, sexist or evidence of membership in a criminal organization, should not be permanently tattooed on their bodies.
The new policy also makes a point of stating that tattoos are forbidden on the face and neck. However, members are allowed to request special consideration if they wish to have their face or scalp tattooed for religious or cultural reasons.
I am blissfully unaware of any religion or culture, which requires a face tattoo, but I am assuming in their efforts to embrace inclusion, the CAF policy planners felt it prudent to include that particular clause.
As an institution the CAF have been grappling to deal with widespread sexual misconduct throughout the ranks. In 2015, General Vance announced the implementation of Operation Honour as a concentrated effort to eliminate such misconduct.
As such, it would be very surprising if anyone in uniform would be so unaware of the career consequences of getting a sexist image or slogan tattooed anywhere on their person.
However, the real concern lies with images which could be associated with criminal organizations such as motorcycle gangs, and more alarmingly white supremacist groups.
Military Intelligence officials report that at least 30 CAF members were discovered to have been associated with hate groups in the past year.
Forbidding such members from displaying symbolic tattoos will prevent future embarrassment for the institution, but it does not remove the criminals or white supremacists from the military.
Maybe policy makers should have taken the opposite tack when dealing with tattoos. If members harboring such deep sentiments regarding sexism or racism that they wish to permanently brand themselves with a vulgar message – that says a lot about their true character.
Instead of ordering members to cover over offensive images, why not use these symbols to identify personality disorders? I’m not saying that any service member with a questionable tattoo be discharged, but it is safe to say that if someone is sporting “the Mayor of Boobtown” on his forearm he might need a little counseling regarding sexism in the workplace.
Symbols of racism, criminal entities, or white supremacy on the other hand have absolutely no place on those who wear the uniform in defence of Canadian values.