Greater Sudbury Police Chief Paul Pedersen is apologizing for taking a photo with Soldiers of Odin members at the unveiling of an organ donor monument on August 18 in Sudbury, Ont.

The image should not be interpreted as giving support for the group, according to Pedersen.

"In my role as Chief, I try not to put myself or the organization in compromising situations when people ask for a photo with me," Pedersen wrote in an email statement that was released on Thursday.

"But recognizing that there are those that associate the Soldiers of Odin with far right views, especially with current events being that they are globally, I could have and should have politely declined this request."

The Soldiers of Odin was founded in 2015 by a Finnish white supremacist concerned about the influx of Muslim refugees in that Nordic country.

Gerry Montpellier

Greater Sudbury city councillor Gerry Montpellier (second on right) also took a picture with some Soldiers of Odin members at the organ donor event. (Facebook)

Its Sudbury affiliate claims it has broken away from following the ideology of the group's hardline European leaders, and is trying to help the community by picking up discarded needles and volunteering at the Blue Door Kitchen. 

'Be assured that I stand on very high moral grounds'

Pedersen explained he posed for a photo with members in a benevolent context, noting there was nothing more to the group's involvement at the event. Otherwise, he said he would not have taken a picture with the Soldiers of Odin. 

Pedersen's image has been drawing criticism ever since it was posted to the Soldiers of Odin Eastern Canada Support Facebook page shortly after the organ donation event.

Some critics are comparing the picture to former Toronto mayor Mel Lastman's handshake with the Hells Angels in 2002. 

"Be assured that I stand on very high moral grounds, and support all that helps ensure the community safety and well-being of Greater Sudbury," Pedersen wrote.

"As the child of immigrant parents, I have always supported diversity and inclusion for all and do not support any group that opposes these values."

City councilor also facing criticism

Pedersen is not the only high-profile Sudburian to be under fire for posing with the Soldiers of Odin.

Coun. Gerry Montpellier also had his picture taken with some members of the group, which was posted to Facebook.

He told CBC News he did not know anything about Soldiers of Odin before taking the photo. 

"I just don't know what to say because it's kind of a funny thing," Montpellier said. "I promote organ donation. We have no race. No creed. No colour. We're just into organ donation and signing up people."

"What do I say? [Soldiers of Odin said] We pick up needles. We help seniors. We'll run the soup kitchen. We'll hand out hamburgers. Well, of course I want your help," Montpellier added.

sudburynews@cbc.ca