In October of 2018, the United Conservative Party (UCP) was forced to let go of one of their west Edmonton candidates following a photo op gone wrong. The candidate, Lance Coulter, received massive backlash after images appeared in various social media accounts of himself and two other candidates posing with members of the Soldiers of Odin (SOO). When confronted, Coulture responded with praise for the group, stating how respectful and polite they had been at the west-end UCP pub night, where the photos were taken, according to Dean Bennett with the Canadian Press.
Coulter wrote a post on his Facebook page to respond to being disqualified from nomination. “I will not lie for political expedience, I will not simply smile and tell people what I think they want to hear, I will treat all people with dignity and respect,” Coulter states in the post.
The UCP cut ties with Coulter after the event. He received a letter from the party’s executive director, Janice Harrington, stating that “Hate and racial intolerance has no place in the United Conservative Party. And we do not agree with your view that we should be ‘cordial’ to racists simply because they are ‘polite.’”
The SOO started in Finland as an anti-immigration group founded by Mika Ranta, a known white supremacist with a history of violence towards Muslim immigrants, according to Anne Kauranen in her 2016 article in Yahoo News. They are known in Canada as a white supremacist, anti-Muslim vigilante group. The group has appeared at rallies and protests with other Canadian-based alleged neo-Nazi organizations such as the III%, which have been referred to as dangerous and anti-Muslim, and the Northern Guard, who also share the ideology of anti-immigration. Below is a picture from the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, which shows various other far right groups, as well as the SOO Ottawa. The article is from 2018, and shows the various groups with Nazi paraphernalia, using “Sieg Heil,” or in the case of the SOO Ottawa, holding up a flag saying “No sharia law for Canada.” The protests are in response to the United Nations plans for safe immigration.
As a result of Coulter’s faux pas, Jason Kenney, the leader of the UCP, tweeted to denounce the organization and officially label it as a “group that promotes racial prejudice.” Coulter originally refused to step down, but has since resigned. The SOO also did damage control on Facebook after the negative publicity from Kenney.
Following the event, there was talk on the Soldiers’ Facebook page about some members re-branding from SOO to Canadian Infidels. The Canadian Infidels are a different anti-Islamic hate group, easily identifiable by the Arabic text that reads “non-believer” on their clothing, as stated in an article by VICE reporter Mack Lamoureux.
However, the SOO Facebook page and its remaining members are still active and continuing business as usual, doing volunteer work and posting on Facebook. Many of the posts displayed on the page consist of bottle drives and volunteering in homeless kitchens across Edmonton, promoting the image that the SOO is a group dedicated to helping the less fortunate. But a closer look at their page, affiliations, and general belief system of the group paint a very different picture.
The SOO made their way to Canada in 2016, according to Lamoureux, and set up shop in Edmonton that year. The group has been tied to vigilante assaults and intimidation against migrants, according to Lamoureaux’s article. Looking through the files and posts on both the SOO Edmonton site and the national Facebook page, it is clear that Edmonton’s group is very similar to its founding Finnish counterpart. This is in opposition to the Edmonton sections’ claims that they “are an independant charter of the Soldiers of Odin; we’re a community watch group,” which Joel Agnott, president of the Manitoba SOO, stated in a CBC interview.
For example, on the Edmonton chapter’s Facebook page, in-between posts about charity, cleaning up of neighbourhoods, and re-posts of missing persons, one principle seems to guide the posts and members’ chat above all else: anti-immigration and a very specific anti-Muslim sentiment. Scroll down far enough, and you find posts that state hate-filled rhetoric.
“I would rather lay down my life in battle than to leave my children in a world dominated by the evil that is Islam,” states a photo uploaded to Soldiers of Odin Edmonton page on April 3, 2017.
The comment section paints an even more bleak picture, as many following this group have no issue spouting racially charged sentiments. In the comments section of a news article about the U-Haul truck attack last year on Jasper Ave. the Soldiers of Odin Edmonton page states:
“Check out the Canadian Nationalist Party. They’re are looking to make those exact changes to make Canada what it was,” states a comment posted on Oct. 3, 2017.
From these posts, SOO Edmonton appears to align closely with the roots of the international organization. After the events at the UCP pub night, VICE News released an article describing how the Edmonton group was going to disband and re-brand as The Canadian Infidels.
In response, SOO Edmonton stated on their Facebook that there would be no re-branding, and that members of the Edmonton chapter who followed the ideologies presented by the Finnish chapter were kicked out of SOO Canada because of their racist and anti-immigration views.
The group also made a point to say that Tyson Hunt, one of the SOO members in the photo with Coulter, has never been a Canadian club president, responding to Lamoureux’s VICE article.
Is this an actual attempt to turn over a new leaf on the part of SOO Edmonton and their national counterparts, or is it instead a desperate attempt at splintering away from the negative connotations and press?
The SOO went on to what they called a “rebuild mode” on the Facebook page after the events in October, trying to shed the public view that the SOO Edmonton is a hate group.
The pictures of volunteering continued, and in one comment section, the group responded to one of their followers, asking them not to demonize any group. For about a month, it would look like the group was trying to change, to an outside observer.
Then December came, and with it, the SOO’s photos from the legislature protest on Dec. 8. These photos were from the Edmonton version of the “Yellow Vest Rallies” that took part across Canada, imitating the events occurring within the movement in France.
The protests in France began as a way of for low income communities to decry their outrage at raised taxes on fuel and bailouts for the country’s rich citizens.
However, anti-immigrant sentiments and messages crept into the French protests, according to a 2018 Washington Post article. In a similar fashion, the rallies occurring across Canada have to do with taxes, but also contain a growing anti-immigrant mindset, according to Maham Abedi’s 2018 Global News article. The rebranded SOO did become involved in the rally.
The caption of one photo of the Yellow Vest protest at the Legislature Grounds by the SOO on the group’s Facebook page was: “We won’t be invisible at the next protest. To all you trolls and counter protesters. You better be on your best fracking behaviour.”
The SOO have shown up to rallies in support of anti-immigration ideals and continued to use verbal cues of intimidation.
Although the sub-groups within Canada’s SOO may be experiencing somewhat of an identity crisis at the moment, it would appear that the initial values of the group remain the same.
The SOO’s rebranding includes cutting ties with their founding group, replacing members for bad press and unpopular public views, and massive content control on their social media platforms.
However, the founding principles of the organization continue to seep through in online discussions and previous posts on Facebook.
Cover photo by Milo Knauer.