The emergence of the far-right Soldiers of Odin group in Canada has raised concerns about the potential for “anti-immigrant vigilantism,” according to a de-classified intelligence report obtained by Global News.
The Canada Border Services Agency Intelligence Bulletin cautioned that the Soldiers of Odin-Canada, or SOO, was “gaining popularity,” “rapidly expanding” and “setting up chapters in many provinces.”
“Members of the SOO are generally Caucasian males between the ages of 20 and 40 who adhere to right-wing politics and ideology — some members adhere to extreme right-wing ideology and are not afraid to use violence to achieve objectives,” the CBSA report said.
“The group’s nature has raised concerns of anti-immigration vigilantism,” said the “Protected” report, which was written by the CBSA’s Intelligence Analysis Unit in the Prairie Region, where several SOO chapters were based.
The one-page report was dated April 2016 but was only recently released under the Access to Information Act. Since it was written, the Canadian SOO franchises have succumbed to infighting and some have shut down.
Despite the rifts, the group has remained active. The SOO protested outside a mosque in Surrey, B.C. last week, and on June 3, members took part in a rally at Calgary city hall featuring anti-Muslim campaigner Sandra Solomon.
But Yannick Veilleux-Lepage, a Canadian researcher at the Handa Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St Andrews, said many members had abandoned the group in recent months.
“They’re starting to look like a spent force,” he said. Together with Emil Archambault of Durham University, Veilleux-Lepage identified 265 Canadians associated with the Soldiers of Odin. But many have jumped to join other organizations in the past two to three months, he said.
“It was a flash in the pan in some ways,” he said. “I would say the ideology is definitely growing but not the group.”
Questions sent to the SOO Facebook pages went unanswered. “I’m not giving you a statement so you can twist it. Here’s where you can go and here’s how you can get there,” a spokesperson for the British Columbia affiliate said.
The Soldiers of Odin first appeared in 2015 as a Finnish anti-immigration group closely tied to the racist far right. It quickly spread to Europe, the United States and Canada, where it presented itself as a community volunteer group.
But while SOO chapters held food drives and picked up trash in parks, they also clashed with anti-racism and anti-fascist demonstrators, and posted flagrantly anti-Muslim statements on their social media pages.
“SOO is a self-proclaimed street patrol group whose broad purpose is to prevent violent migrant-related crime,” said the CBSA report, which noted the group used a Hell’s Angels “three-piece patch” system and had developed its own by-laws.
Within Alberta, support for “right-wing ideology” is being fuelled by an economic downturn, the influx of refugees, dissatisfaction with immigration policies and an “actual or perceived increase in crimes committed by migrants,” the CBSA said.
The intelligence report did not explain why the CBSA had taken an interest in the group. Such bulletins are typically distributed to border officials to alert them to emerging immigration enforcement issues.