The Soldiers of Odin Canada may share the same name as an anti-refugee and anti-immigration group formed in Finland, but it claims its mission statement is anything but the same.
- Soldiers of Odin establish roots in Regina, across Sask.
- Soldiers of Odin, dubbed 'extreme anti-refugee group,' patrol Edmonton streets
- Controversial Soldiers of Odin group organizing in Hamilton
Joel Agnott, president of the Soldiers of Odin Canada based in Manitoba told CBC News that the group is looking to serve its communities in the form of a neighbourhood watch group — picking up garbage, cleaning up city parks and reporting crime to local law enforcement.
But because of the group's name, they're being forced to strike down misconceptions that they are a fringe group looking to keep Canada white.
"That's just misinformation that's been brought over from other countries," Agnott said. "What they do over in Finland and in Europe, they have all sorts of different issues altogether. That's not really what we are. We're an independent charter of Soldiers of Odin; we're a community watch group."
But this bit of information isn't widely known in Canada, and it's led to the Soldiers of Odin Canada to be shut down in one instance where they tried to hold a fundraiser.
We're not here to replace any kind of police. - Joel Agnott
On Aug. 27, the Saskatchewan chapter tried to hold a barbecue fundraiser for STARS Air Ambulance.
Mark Oddan, communications lead for STARS in Saskatchewan told the CBC, when the Soldiers of Odin approached the organization to see if they would attend the fundraiser, STARS declined to attend.
"We didn't know who this group was and then did some research and thanked them for their interest and their support, but we declined their invite and said we cannot accept any funds from them as their values are not aligned with ours," Oddan said.
In the U.S., the Anti-Defamation League published a report this year saying the white supremacy ties of many Soldiers of Odin members in America "leaves no room for doubt."
"Though not all such adherents of the group are white supremacists or bigots, so many of them clearly are that the Soldiers of Odin can easily be considered a hate group," the report said.
But according to Agnott, that's not the group that has set up roots in Regina and across Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
"We're just being tied in with what's going on overseas. We're not here to change anything we're just here to make our neighbourhood and cities better," Agnott said. "Once people talk to us and ask us what we're doing we seem to be getting a lot of good feedback."
When asked how they deal with violence on the street, Agnott said they're not around to intervene. Their mandate is to call police and stick around to be a witness to a crime and even provide witness statements in court.
"We're not here to replace any kind of police."
Not considering a name change
Agnott said the group is not considering parting ways with the name Soldiers of Odin, partly because of where the national chapter is based out of: Gimli, Man.
"Basically it's where it started from here in Canada," Agnott said.
Gimli is about 88 kilometres north of Winnipeg and was founded by Icelandic settlers. Visitors can find many Viking monuments and landmarks recognizing the Scandinavian settlers. The town even has an annual Icelandic Festival.
Agnott said he wants to keep the name because it relates to the town's theme and culture, but he knows it's going to take time to fix the many misconceptions about his group.
Meanwhile, a teacher at Edmonton's MacEwan University isn't swayed by Agnott's comments.
"Why name yourself after that group, then, if you don't want to be associated with that ideology?" asked criminology teacher Irfan Chaundhry. "If you truly are interested in community safety, community patrols, there's more than enough volunteer organizations that could have been joined."
Chaundhry has studied the group in Europe and Canada. He says the Canadian group's national Facebook page shows clear signs of anti-immigration sentiment.
"There was a general trend around anti-refugee, anti-Muslim, anti-Islamic sentiment that is on the page," he said. "While the moderator and president is trying to be more inclusive, I don't think users of this Facebook page really care about that."
However, Chaundhry said there doesn't seem to be any evidence that the group is violent.
"There could be some aggression from a small percentage of people, but that's true of people from any group, to be quite honest," he said. "They are pretty active and vocal in protests (in Europe) and making sure their voice and their narrative is shared."