The Royal Canadian Legion is condemning an event held at a local Alberta legion that was organized by the Soldiers of Odin.
The Soldiers of Odin (SOO) are a far-right group that has members that “adhere to extreme right-wing ideology and are not afraid to use violence,” according to a declassified Canada Border Services Agency intelligence report obtained by Global News in 2017.
The Soldiers of Odin’s Easter dinner event “for the hungry” took place April 22 at the Grande Prairie legion.
“There’s a large population of hungry people here in Grande Prairie and we wanted to feed them,” said SOO local chapter president Wade Reimer.
Reimer said he has been a member of the legion for one month. He added that the legion was chosen because of its proximity to the local homeless shelter; the dinner was held at a different location the previous year.
But the incident has prompted the Royal Canadian Legion to re-examine its policies.
In a statement posted to Facebook, Royal Canadian Legion dominion president Thomas D. Irvine said the national command “does not support or tolerate any group or organization whose views or actions are contrary to our values and those of our country. This includes ‘the Soldiers of Odin.'”
The SOO 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.
While SOO chapters held food drives and picked up trash in parks, some have also clashed with anti-racism and anti-fascist demonstrators, and posted flagrantly anti-Muslim statements on their social media pages.
Irvine said the national and provincial commands are “ultimately responsible” for enforcing organizational policies to ensure events such as the one in Grande Prairie do not take place.
“We are taking action to prevent this sort of outcome in the future,” Irvine said. “We have a clear policy related to outlaw motorcycle groups and will develop a similar, strong and explicit policy against any form of association with any group whose presence is not consistent with the legion’s general bylaws and our articles of faith.”
The response does not appear to have fazed Reimer, who said the organization is pro-immigration.
“They can run their house however they see fit, I guess,” he said.
“[I] thought people would see past all the biased news and see us for what we are, helping hands in the community.”
However, Evan Balgord, executive director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, said that is a common tactic.
Balgord said there has been some fragmentation of the SOO since it first started, however, there’s still meaning behind operating under the SOO banner.
“It’s like the KKK wanted to start up a chapter in your neighbourhood and they said they wouldn’t do anything bad,” Balgord said.
Bridget Stirling, cofounder of Hate Free YEG, a volunteer initiative to make Edmonton a discrimination-free space, said there are concerns with far-right groups attempting to infiltrate military and police organizations.
“Some of these groups are attracted to the military and to the ideals they see as being about Canadian-ness and this idea of patriotism,” said Stirling, whose grandfather served in the Second World War and was a legion member.
“But it’s this distorted patriotism, right? It’s this distorted sense of pride in Canada that then says only some people get to have that pride, only some people get to belong as Canadians.”
Stirling said she is waiting to see what policies the Royal Canadian Legion puts in place, but she has some ideas too.
Balgord said he was pleased with the response from the legion’s national headquarters. He added that he would like to see policies preventing people who are members of hate groups from becoming legion members and preventing hate groups from booking events at legion venues.
As for Reimer, he said he is not deterred by the incident or the response; he said the Easter dinner will still be held next year, but at a different location.
– With files from Global News’ Stewart Bell and Phil Heidenreich