The former leader of a U.S. neo-Nazi group, a former Soldiers of Odin member and a Pegida Canada official were among those whose signatures were submitted to Elections Canada last year to officially register the People’s Party of Canada, records show.
All three of their names appear on Elections Canada documents, obtained by Global News, that confirmed a minimum of 250 party members had signed membership declarations. The forms were required to obtain party status for the PPC and its leader, Maxime Bernier.
The Canadian Anti-Hate Network said the revelation that the party’s founding members included associates of extreme far-right, anti-immigrant groups should be grounds for removing Bernier from the televised election debates.
“These people speak to who is really excited about the People’s Party of Canada and who got in on the ground floor,” said Evan Balgord, the anti-hate group’s executive director. “It’s become impossible to separate the PPC from this kind of white-supremacist ideology.”
To register as an official political party, the PPC had to submit the names of at least 250 members to the chief electoral officer. Each member had to then sign an Elections Canada “confirmation” form verifying they had signed a membership declaration.
A spokesperson for Elections Canada said the process was meant to ensure that parties applying to register met all requirements under the Canada Elections Act.
“The Act is agnostic when it comes to ideology or platform,” Natasha Gauthier said in an email. “There is no mechanism allowing the Chief Electoral Officer to reject an application solely based on ideology.”
Under Canada Elections Act, parties do not have to disclose information about former or pending criminal backgrounds or investigations regarding those involved with the party, she said.
Released to Global News by Elections Canada, the forms list Shaun Walker among the PPC’s signatories. Walker, who now lives in St. Catharines, Ont., once led the National Alliance and was convicted in Utah over his role in a conspiracy to intimidate minorities.
U.S. prosecutors called the National Alliance a “U.S.-based white supremacist group.”
“Although it purports to be non-violent, the National Alliance is generally recognized as a group that condones and promotes the use of violence to achieve racial separatism,” prosecutors wrote.
WATCH: (Sept. 16, 2019): People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier invited to participate in federal election leaders’ debates
The party cut its ties with Walker last month after his past involvement in the white nationalist movement came to light. While his position in the PPC was unclear at the time, the Elections Canada forms disclose his role in registering the party.
Walker did not respond to requests for comment. But in a message obtained by Global News last month, he said he was “innocent” of the U.S. charges and was “framed.”
The PPC submitted 489 membership declarations when it applied to register as a party. Elections Canada accepted 485 of them as “valid.” Of those, 314 members later signed confirmation forms, exceeding the 250 required for registration.
Among them was Janice Bultje, who is active in Pegida Canada and a group called Fighting Hate in Canada. Pegida, whose slogan is “Patriots of Canada against the Islamization of the West,” denies it is a white-supremacist group.
“As a founding member of both Pegida Canada and Fighting Hate in Canada, I believe in the importance of having a government that keeps the separation between church and state and fights hate regardless its origin, from the far-right to the far-left,” Bultje responded when asked why she had agreed to serve as one of the signatories during the registration of the PPC.
The Canadian Anti-Hate Network describes Pegida as an anti-Muslim group and says that while it isn’t militant or physically dangerous, Pegida’s rallies often attract more violent far-right groups.
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Another signatory was Justin L. Smith, who was formerly active in the Soldiers of Odin. When reached by Global News, Smith confirmed his past involvement in Soldiers of Odin but said he had not been active in the group for “quite a long time.”
The Sudbury Star reported that Smith was president of the Soldiers of Odin in Sudbury as recently as September 2017. Smith said the local group kept that name and logo after splitting away from the Finland organization because it was too costly to remake.
“We are not racists or anti-anyone,” Smith told the Star.
Smith confirmed he was one of the PPC members whose signatures were submitted to register the party and that he was the financial agent for Kevin M. Klerks, the People’s Party candidate for the Huron-Bruce riding in Ontario.
“His activities with the People’s Party of Canada, according to the document you provided dated 2018 and since, are not connected to nor affiliated with the Soldiers of Odin organization in any way,” Klerks said in an email, calling him an “honest and respectful individual.”
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 a 2017 declassified Canada Border Services Agency intelligence report said it had members that “adhere to extreme right-wing ideology and are not afraid to use violence.”
A Canadian military report on right-wing extremists said Soldiers of Odin was “described as an anti-immigrant street patrol group” and began to appear in Canada in 2016, noting it denies “having any racist underpinnings.”
The People’s Party did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
In a letter to debates commissioner David Johnston last week, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said he was “troubled” the PPC had been invited to participate in the leaders’ debate. He called on Johnston to reconsider.
“It is wrong that Mr. Bernier be given a platform to promote an ideology of hate that spreads prejudice and disinformation,” Singh said.
In a statement Monday afternoon, the PPC said the party accepts any members or candidates “regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, gender or sexual orientation.”
“This is why our party is ethically and religiously diverse. However, the diversity of our candidates and members is never mentioned by Global News and seldom reported on by any other mainstream media,” the PPC said. “A month ago, we cut ties with a PPC member who was involved, years ago, with an extremist organization while living in the US, which is the reason why our vetting process had found nothing about him. For most Canadians, our actions clearly showed that we will not stand for bigotry. Global News wants to advance a fiction.”
“Global News has mentioned two other members of our party who were original signatory members. Neither of those members have espoused racist views. Their only “offence” is that they would like to see Canada’s immigration rate lowered and have said so publicly. While that opinion is considered unacceptable by Global News and other mainstream media, it is what a majority of Canadians desire. Only the People’s Party of Canada has a policy that reflects this desire of most of Canadians.”