People’s Party of Canada leader Maxime Bernier is being asked about a photo he recently posed for in which he is seen smiling with members of the Northern Guard, a reportedly “anti-Muslim” organization that allegedly has ties to neo-Nazism.
One of the group’s members can be seen flashing what appears to be an “OK” hand sign in the photo — a symbol that has been associated with “white power.”
The photo, first reported by Press Progress, was posted to Facebook by Kyle Puchalski, a Calgary man who identifies himself on his page as the Northern Guard’s provincial president for Alberta.
“Great day gents,” he captioned the photo, which was tagged as having been taken in Calgary.
Bernier said he hadn’t seen the photo yet when Global News asked him about it in Edmonton on Tuesday.
WATCH: April 5 — Canadian Anti-Hate Network tracking Northern Guard group in Halifax
When asked how he responds to criticism for having posed with Northern Guard members, Bernier said he doesn’t look at the background of every person who takes a photo with him.
“I’m a politician at a public event. People who want to come with us and have a photo with me, I’ll have a photo with them,” he said.
Bernier went on to say that people who don’t share the PPC’s values are not welcome in the party.
“People who are racist and anti-Semitic, they’re not welcome in our party,” he said.
The Northern Guard is described as an anti-Muslim far-right group with ties to neo-Nazism by the Canadian Anti-Hate Network.
The group, which has existed since the fall of 2017, is an offshoot of the Soldiers of Odin, according to the network.
The Soldiers of Odin are an organization that has triggered concerns about “anti-immigration vigilantism” within the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).
WATCH: March 27, 2017 — Soldiers of Odin members arrested
The Northern Guard came under scrutiny earlier this year as the Canadian Anti-Hate Network started tracking its activities in Halifax.
A chapter opened in the city earlier this year; its vice-president George Fagen said the group’s mandate is to put Canadian values and issues first.
The group had distributed pizza to people they felt needed food in downtown Halifax.
But a poster campaign targeting the Northern Guard at the time described them as a “violent, Islamophobic hate group.”
Fagen told Global News that the Northern Guard in Halifax is simply being patriotic, that it doesn’t represent violence or racism.
“We need to take care of our own backyard first before we take care of somebody else, and a lot of people agree with that,” he said.
“Freedom of speech does not exist no more; they’ve changed it to hate speech.”
Global News has reached out to Puchalski for comment. This story will be updated if that request is returned.
— With files from Alexa MacLean