Questions, concerns over Labour Day lunch for homeless hosted by far-right groups
Mustard Seed says the groups are 'not affiliated' with their organization
A coalition of groups affiliated with extreme far-right views is planning to hand out food to Edmonton's inner city homeless population on Labour Day.
Advertisements for the initiative — being promoted as organized by the Soldiers of Odin, the Northern Guard and Onwards, Christian Soldiers — say it will take place at "The Mustard Seed Church."
That inner-city charitable organization says it has nothing to do with the event.
"None of those groups are affiliated with us in any way," said Dean Kurpjuweit, the Mustard Seed's managing director in Edmonton.
Soldiers of Odin was founded in late 2015 in Finland by Mika Ranta, a self-proclaimed white supremacist. But the Canadian branches of the group declare themselves as "non-racist, conservatives" who want to "keep Canadians safe."
The group has been known to walk in "patrols" around cities such as Edmonton.
Kurpjuweit said he understands the event is to happen on the public street outside the Mustard Seed.
"We're not partnering with them, they're not our volunteers," he said.
"This is happening outside of our organization. ... We can't stop what's happening on the street."
Same day as Labour Council barbecue
The event falls on the same day as an annual free barbecue in the neighbourhood that regularly attracts thousands.
"I'm really not sure exactly what they're getting at," said Greg Mady, president of the Edmonton and District Labour Council.
The council has hosted a Labour Day barbecue for the unemployed and under-employed for the past 28 years that attracts upward of 3,000 people.
The labour council's event takes place in Giovanni Caboto Park, a few blocks away from the coalition's meeting spot in front of the Mustard Seed.
"They mention 'the homeless population and like-minded individuals' and I'm just not sure how many people with their views they'll find in the community, being that a lot of them are either newcomers to Canada or of Indigenous ancestry — in which case, they're the ones that should be here, not them."
A similar initiative held by the group in August appeared to attract a handful of volunteers.
Irfan Chaudhry, director of the Office of Human Rights, Diversity and Equity at MacEwan University, said such efforts are largely public relations initiatives.
Effort to improve image
"It's really good for everyone to help everyone — that's not what's being discounted here. But often because these groups feel they have negative rap in the press, they utilize these types of initiatives as a PR stunt to say they're not what they're claimed to be."
While the Soldiers of Odin in Canada has repeatedly tried to distance itself from the principles of its founding member in Europe, Chaudhry said it's important to look at the types of comments and stories its members engage in online.
"If you track what they discuss online on their open Facebook channels, the people who are attracted to these groups are very nationalistic in focus and share very xenophobic sentiments."
The man who initially posted about the Labour Day event in Edmonton declined to answer questions about the event, and said he was promoting the event but not organizing it.