Concerns raised after Soldiers of Odin offer free snow shovelling

Concerns are being raised after the local chapter of a controversial group started offering free snow shovelling services in Regina.

Original group in Finland was founded on anti-immigrant sentiments

Ryan Ward is the president of the Regina chapter of Soldiers of Odin. (Brian Rodgers/CBC)

Concerns are being raised after the local chapter of a controversial group started offering free snow shovelling services in Regina.

Bob Hughes, advocate with the Saskatchewan Coalition Against Racism is concerned about the "winds blowing around the country and the world," referring to anti-immigrant sentiment.

Soldiers of Odin, an anti-immigrant organization that started in Finland last year as a response to the influx of refugees, has set up chapters in a number of Saskatchewan communities. The organization was founded by Mika Ranta, a self-proclaimed white supremacist. 

Recently, the Regina chapter posted an advertisement on offering free snow shovelling.

"We generally try to stay on the bus routes and where we know heavy traffic areas are so that they're not going to be slipping and falling when it's all snowy and icy," said Ryan Ward, president of Regina's Soldiers of Odin chapter.

The Regina chapter of Soldiers of Odin is offering free shovelling services this winter. (Brian Rodgers/CBC)

He said the group, which consists of six full-time members, has been offering its shovelling support since the first snowfall this winter. They had another snow removal sweep planned for Thursday night.

Before that, members were involved in park clean-ups and helping seniors with yard work, he said.

"It brings the communities together and when you see someone doing something it makes you have the feeling of, 'What can I do? How can I help?'"

Ward said the group's services are available to anyone, regardless of their culture.

What's in a name?

"To go out and shovel for free: Great, go out and do that in your neighbourhood; go out and do that in your block; find elderly people that need that," Hughes said. 

But Hughes said the Soldiers of Odin name comes with a certain meaning behind it.

"Obviously, we want safety and security for everyone," Hughes said. 

"For sure the people coming out of Syria really want safety and security and these kinds of groups don't provide that for anyone."

Mika Ranta, founder of the Soldiers of Odin, pictured on Feb. 5, 2016, in Kemi, Finland. (Sam Kingsley/AFP/Getty Images)

The Soldiers of Odin's Regina Facebook page describes the group as "for the benefit of the community, province and country. This is not a racist group. We are here to assist. There will be no hate speech or inappropriate behaviour."

Ward said the negative perception of the organization has hurt membership. Earlier in the year the group shrunk by half due to members quitting.

The group is trying to shed its negative image, he said, and it has turned away white supremacists who have asked to join.

Ward added the group has received positive responses to its community service efforts.