Royal Canadian Legion to investigate hate-group presence in local Alberta branch, ban them

The Royal Canadian Legion says it is looking into how far-right group Soldiers of Odin managed to sign up members at a local Legion branch, rent hall for community dinner.

Policy shift in the works after CBC reveals relationship between Grande Prairie Legion, far-right group

A member of the Soldiers of Odin Canada displays a patch during a rally in Toronto against the federal government's anti-Islamophobia bill on March 4, 2017. (Chris Helgren/Reuters)

A day after CBC News revealed a Royal Canadian Legion branch in Alberta counts members of the far-right group Soldiers of Odin among its ranks, the national Legion said it would be investigating those links.

"It's just something that we haven't dealt with in the past, but it's hit us right in the face today, and we're going to deal with it," said Thomas Irvine, the Legion's national president.

The Soldiers of Odin Canada are an off-shoot of a neo-Nazi group with the same name in Finland. The Canadian organization has made a name for itself by appearing at anti-immigration protests across the country over the last two years, from Montreal to Vancouver.

But in Grande Prairie, Alta., about a half-dozen members have signed up with the local Legion, which rented the Soldiers its hall for a community Easter dinner last week.

"The story kind of shocked me, I'll tell you, it really did shock me, and I was somewhat dismayed at the news, but we have to deal with these situations, and we will," Irvine said.

Thomas Irvine, national president of the Royal Canadian Legion, says his organization has launched an investigation into how the Soldiers of Odin were allowed to host a dinner at a Legion branch in Grande Prairie, Alta. (Charles Pepin/CBC)

He added the Legion has launched an investigation into how the dinner was allowed to take place, and will also update its policies to prevent members of hate groups from joining.

"We do not tolerate hate groups whatsoever," he said, adding the change to its rules will be coming shortly, likely modeled after a similar rule barring members of outlaw motorcycle groups.

Not a surprise

Tony Keene, an Armed Forces veteran and a former member of the Legion in Ontario, said it was hardly the first time the national Legion has responded to controversy at local branches.

"The Legion itself is not a racist organization," Keene said. But its membership is becoming "increasingly reactionary," he said, with a lack of diversity and fewer veterans from the Second World War as time goes on.

He cited the example of a Sikh man being asked to remove his turban while visiting a branch in P.E.I. in January, and how a Campbellford, Ont., branch found itself in trouble after awarding a man in a Ku Klux Klan outfit a Halloween costume prize nine years ago.

"It just goes on and on — and it isn't going to stop," Keene said.

The local Legion and Soldiers told CBC News that the Soldiers of Odin Canada do not have any of its reputed anti-immigration stances.

Unspecified repercussions 

Irvine said the Legion will make sure the Grande Prairie Legion's lax attitude toward the Soldiers of Odin won't last.

"They are changing their attitude right now. If not, they will be very shortly," Irvine said.

Irvine warned there could be repercussions for the Grande Prairie Legion, depending on what's revealed in the investigation.

"They could be as little as a reprimand, right up to a branch closing," he said.

Irvine said national command had instructed the Alberta leadership to tell Grande Prairie not to hold the event.

But Alberta previously said it could not intervene unless any bylaws were broken.

Irvine also asked for patience from critics.

"Don't react with a knee-jerk reaction," he said, addressing some of the comments surfacing on social media that have threatened to boycott the Legion's annual Remembrance Day poppy campaigns.

"We're investigating and we will guarantee that we will correct this action," he said.


Raffy Boudjikanian

Senior reporter

Raffy Boudjikanian is a senior reporter with the CBC's Parliamentary Bureau in Ottawa. He has also worked in Edmonton, Calgary and Montreal for the public broadcaster.