'We have nothing to hide': Soldiers of Odin Ontario leader denounces ties to anti-immigration

Despite having the same name as an anti-immigration group from Europe, Soldiers of Odin Ontario president David MacKinnon insists his club's mission is to offer community support to all races and religions.

Group founded in 2015 by Finnish white supremacist, but Canadian members say they've cut ties

A member of Soldiers of Odin prepares food for the homeless at the Blue Door Soup Kitchen in Sudbury, Ont. (Facebook)

Despite having the same name as an anti-immigration group from Europe, Soldiers of Odin Ontario president David MacKinnon insists his club's mission is to offer community support to all races and religions. 

"We don't go out and intimidate people or flash our vests," MacKinnon said. "We have nothing to hide."

MacKinnon said he joined the group one year ago after seeing the work a friend was doing to help out. 

In Sudbury, Ont., there are up to 20 members who volunteer at the Blue Door Soup Kitchen, and pick up discarded needles. 

"Last fall, a little girl found a needle on Louis Street, and she got poked by it," MacKinnon said.

"As a parent myself, I couldn't imagine my child coming home with a needle that just got stuck in her hand."
Greater Sudbury Police Chief Paul Pedersen issued an apology after being criticized for taking a picture with Soldiers of Odin members at the unveiling of an organ donor monument on August 18 in Sudbury, Ont. (Facebook)

Despite his good deeds, MacKinnon cannot shake off questions about his group's name. 

Canadian group distancing itself from extreme beliefs

Soldiers of Odin was founded in 2015 by Mika Ranta, a self-avowed white supremacist in Finland who sports Swastika and other neo-Nazi tattoos. 

The group's association to its European founder recently prompted Greater Sudbury Police Chief Paul Pedersen to issue an apology after he received criticism for taking a photo with Soldiers of Odin members on August 18 at the unveiling of an organ donor monument in the city.

MacKinnon insists his chapter does not attend rallies, and will not be conducting street patrols as other affiliates with the same name have.
Soldiers of Odin President David MacKinnon insists his members do not hold anti-immigration ideologies. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

Soldiers of Odin Canada recently cut ties with its European and Quebec equivalents because members do not hold the same strong anti-refugee and anti-immigrantion ideologies, Mackinnon explained, adding that his group is no longer recognized by Finland.

Still, members voted to keep the name Soldiers of Odin. 

"I know some people want to keep it just because they worked hard for the name," MacKinnon said.

"Some people want to keep it because Finland is pissed, and they want us to change it so some of us will be doing it just to spite them."

Do deep-seated views still exist?

Many Soldiers of Odin groups in Canada have tried to distance themselves away from European connections, but racist rhetoric still persists in many cases, according to Ryan Scrivens, one of Canada's leading researchers on the Soldiers of Odin from Simon Fraser University. 
Soldiers of Odin members pick up discarded needles in Sudbury, Ont. (Facebook)

"You'll often find if you dig deep enough into these individuals in these groups that there is a deep-seated propensity to promote anti-muslim sentiment in particular," Scrivens said.

Soldiers of Odin Canada members have participated in protests against bill M-103 to condemn Islamophobia, but MacKinnon said no one from Sudbury attended those demonstrations.

Yannick Veilleux-Lepage, a Ph.D. candidate at the Handa Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St Andrews, is preparing a paper on the Soldiers of Odin Canada. He has found mounting evidence linking Canadian members with white supremacists.

"The company they keep both on the ground, but also online raises some serious questions about their claims that they're not a white supremacist group," Veilleux-Lepage said.

"There's still a lot of shared ideology and difusion of ideology between members in Canada and members abroad."

'Legitimately afraid'

Neil Shyminsky, who teaches English as a second language at Sudbury's Cambrian College, is concerned. 

"I have students who wear hijabs who have been grabbed on the streets before," Shyminsky said.

"Soldiers of Odin start showing up at community events, I'm like legitimately afraid for them." 
Neil Shyminsky, who teaches English as a second language at Cambrian College, is concerned about the Soldiers of Odin recruiting in Sudbury, Ont. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

Schyminsky said he cannot understand why the group is not changing its name unless it is there for another purpose.

Ruva Gwekwerere, a Laurentian University student, said she became worried about the group after seeing many people commend its members for their benevolence without questioning what they may represent.

"Seeing that that was the response from the majority of people who are commenting on this in Sudbury made me feel unsafe in my community," Gwekwerere said. 

"Not just from people in such a group, but also thinking that my community would not be there to defend me as a black woman living in Sudbury."

What's in a name?

Mathieu Labonte, a Sudbury business owner, challenged Soldiers of Odin members online about their beliefs when their image with Pedersen surfaced. 

"If you have an image problem, the last thing you want to do is be tied to the person who goes around spewing racist nonsense out in public,' Labonte said.

"They're not walking around with a big board of fine print saying we're not affiliated with the Finnish group."

Meanwhile, Bill Hickey, who runs the soup kitchen where Soldiers of Odin members volunteer, has full confidence in the group even though its motives are being debated.

"They're really trying to change that image here in Sudbury," Hickey said.

"So I guess time will tell how it's going to change. They do wonderful work, so I support them 100 per cent."

MacKinnnon said he can understand why some people are taken aback by his group's name, but he insists the public has nothing to worry about. 

"If somebody starts posting racist stuff, they get the choice: take it off immediately, don't do it again or you're out," MacKinnon said. 

"Saying every Soldier of Odin is bad would be like saying every Muslim is a terrorist. They're not and neither are we."

About the Author

Olivia Stefanovich

Senior reporter

Olivia Stefanovich is a senior reporter for CBC's Parliamentary Bureau based in Ottawa. She previously worked in Toronto, Saskatchewan and northern Ontario. Connect with her on Twitter at @CBCOlivia. Story tips welcome: