An annotated transcript of a CBC interview with the SOO Ontario President
A small group of people in Sudbury, Ontario have recently gained a lot of attention for being photographed with the Chief of Police. Those who have been following the rise of right-wing groups in Canada (and around the world) recognize the patches and logos as belonging to the Soldiers of Odin, but in Sudbury, the folks displaying these symbols have seemingly attracted equal parts criticism and celebration due to the community service activities they’ve been publicizing on social media.
This is an annotated transcription of a segment that aired on CBC Radio’s weekday morning show, “Morning North” during the week of August 28, 2017. At the time, the recording was available here: http://www.cbc.ca/player/play/1037581379852
Jason Turnbull, Host: “Well, they feed the homeless and pick up discarded needles off the streets, still, Soldiers of Odin face a storm of controversy. The group was created two years ago by a white supremist [sic] in Finland. Since then it’s expanded into Canada. The group in Sudbury says it cut ties with its anti-immigrant counterparts, it claims it doesn’t participate in street patrols or rallies, but the name Soldiers of Odin continues to create confusion and concern.
Especially since Sudbury police chief Paul Pedersen issued an apology last week for taking a photo with the members. CBC Reporter Olivia Stefanovich recently met the Soldiers of Odin president for Ontario at a coffee shop in Sudbury to question what his group stands for.
David Mackinnon: I am David Mackinnon, president of the Soldiers of Odin Ontario.
Olivia Stefanovich: Who are Soldiers of Odin?
DM: We’re just a community support group, here to help any way we can with anything. We help people that lose their homes to fires, we’ll do emergency clothing drives, bottle drives to help get them back on their feet, we volunteer at soup kitchens, pick up needles. Big thing for us, why a lot of us started was last fall a little girl found a needle on Louis Street and she got poked by it [The incident actually happened in July, 2016] and as a parent myself I can imagine having my child come home with a needle that just got stuck in her hand and not knowing if she coulda got a disease or you know, just wanted to concentrate on doing things like that. We don’t go out and intimidate people and flash our vests around and whatnot. I think I’ve worn my vest four times since I been in to help out.
OS: So, the name of the group Soldiers of Odin, has the same name as a group that was started in Finland in 2015 by a Finnish white supremacist, so some people associate your group with that leader and with that ideology, what do you say to that?
DM: I can’t really say that he’s a white supremacist. I have spoken with him over this past year and uh, like I know he’s got, he’s anti-immigration, I wouldn’t go as far as saying he’s white supremacist.
Ranta, who was convicted of a 2005 racially-motivated attack against two immigrants, admits readily to being a neo-Nazi — “Yes, I am” — but insists his ideology and membership in the Finnish Resistance Movement has nothing to do with the patrols.
“Just because I am, as the founder or whatever, it doesn’t mean the whole group are (neo-Nazis)… We’re just a street patrol group, so why are people making it into something else?,” Ranta argued. — https://www.timesofisrael.com/finlands-neo-nazis-face-off-against-pro-refugee-huggers/
He got into a fight, with the uh, a coloured gentleman and beat him up pretty bad, he stepped down. We parted ways with them, I would say about three months ago because we know that they’re anti-immigration, and we do start to see some of the racists that they’ve had, so we’ve completely cut off ties with them.
On their Finland Soldiers of Odin website they’ve got a list of countries that follow them as well as some of the states, some of the provinces, which Quebec still follows them. I’m sure not every Soldier of Odin is a great person, there’s probably gonna be the odd bad apple, it happens everywhere you go. But you can’t, like, just because one person’s bad doesn’t mean everybody is.
OS: Were you originally drawn to this group because it was anti-immigration to begin with because as you say, you did part ways three months ago, right, so did you hold those values to begin with?
DM: Uh, no. I didn’t, I seen a lot of the good that my friend was doing because he’d have it on his facebook, it was posted, I like what he’s doing. That’s what drew me to the group, so I joined and as things progressed we were growing and a lot of the people here in Canada didn’t feel the same way Finland did, so we took a vote to get rid of the president of Canada and get new leadership and try to rebuild, and then do it proper, and help like we say we are.
OS: Why are you keeping the name Soldiers of Odin?
DM: Well, we did talk about changing the name, we took a vote across Canada, and there’s a lot of members and a lot of people, I’m sure there’s a lot of different reasons for why they want to, why they want to keep the name, but the majority vote was to keep it. I know some people want to keep it because they’ve worked hard for the name, 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. I don’t, uh, we all took uh, a vow to stick with each other and stand true so that’s I guess, that’s what it boils down to.
OS: But do you see, by having this name, how that could be a problem for people of colour, for new immigrants to Canada, they might feel intimidated by that?
DM: I can see how that would, yes, but we just gonna have to keep proving them wrong. We’re not here for religion, we’re not here for colour, we’re just here to help everyone.
OS: Why do you need to have a formed group, why can’t you just join a community volunteer group, or just volunteer on your own?
DM: For myself, I can’t answer that question for anybody else, but for myself, it just happened. I watched my friend, for six months do it, it never even crossed my mind to help, and then one day he messaged me, and we’re talking and two days later I was in, and helping out and just never looked back, just kept going.
OS: How do you recruit people, is there a vetting process there?
DM: Oh yeah. We’ve got our support pages, there’s like 900 or a thousand on there, for the eastern Canada,
there’s other ones out west, there’s an all Canada support page that’s just new, but when we vet people we make sure first and foremost we make sure they’re not racist, that’s the first thing we ask.
OS: How do you do that?
DM: Well, we have a couple of our guys that are computer savvy will go through their facebook, the pages they like, they’ll scroll back for months to see what kind of posts they have.
You can tell a lot by the pages people like, the posts they have. Once they make it past the vetting, then you have a try-out, like you come out with us, as a supporter, and you do that for three to six months, you come with us on our needle walks, you go with the soup kitchen, organ donors, put your time in, during that, that’s how we find out whether you want to be here or not, because you’ll get a lot of people that come, that’ll get their vest and then they don’t, they’ll just *pew* slack off and not do anything anymore but yeah no we uh, we’re pretty thorough on that, and if somebody is, starts posting racial stuff they’ve got the choice, take it off immediately, don’t do it again, or you’re out.
[So the problem isn’t necessarily holding those anti-immigrant beliefs, it’s publicizing them]
OS: So when some far-right experts, or people who study these groups, they’ve said that a lot of groups like your’s, they do a lot of volunteer work, but behind the scenes, they’re nationalists and they are recruiting members to push this anti-immigrant ideology. What do you say to that?
DM: Uh, heh, it’s lies. We, uh, everything we do goes on our page,
we’ve seen some pretty ludicrous accusations from people saying that we actually go out and we’re planting these needles, and then we pick them up, we take pictures and pick them up.
[this is a reference to a facebook user who had noticed in some photos of needle clean-ups it appeared that the majority of needles were found capped with the plungers pushed in, and no evidence of blood. However, around the time that this interview aired, that individual posted the following on facebook]
We picked up over ten-thousand. I’d like to say that, fifteen people, Soldiers of Odin in Sudbury would have a pretty big job throwing around twenty-thousand or ten-thousand needles and then picking them up again. We have nothing to hide.
JT: David Mckinnon is the president of Soldiers of Odin Ontario. Yannick Veilleux-Lepage is one of Canada’s leading researchers on this group, he is a Phd candidate at the Handa Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St Andrew’s in Scotland. He is publishing a study on the Soldiers of Odin movements in this Country, and we reached him earlier to discuss the findings.
YV: One of the things that we’ve done is actually graph their social media networks online and what we’ve seen is that the Quebec group for example, is much more interlinked with the Finnish group, than the other groups in english Canada. Nonetheless there’s still a lot of shared ideology, and diffusion of ideology between members in Canada and members abroad. Soldiers of Odin are, work closely with Worldwide Coalition Against Islam, for example, and the Worldwide Coalition Against Island is a group that has, on multiple occasions, referred to Muslims as roaches or cockroaches. The company they keep, both on the ground, but also online raises some serious questions about claims that they’re not a white-supremacist group and that they’re not of a, extreme right group.
I think a large aspect of these groups is that they need to legitimize their presence, they need to legitimize their activity, engaging in social projects is one of the ways that they can do this. What I find problematic is not necessarily that they’re, you know, individuals that are interested advancing these social projects, it’s their other activities, it’s the rhetoric that underpins those activities, and it’s the company that they keep.
One thing that’s also worth kind of keeping in mind is that, in February of this year, when there was another break, from another group, that separated themselves from the Soldiers of Odin, based on the idea that the Soldiers of Odin had too strong of a connection with Finland, and were sharing these values that were not based on community service but were much more radical, the Soldiers of Odin responded by strengthening their rhetoric related to their Finnish-Canadian connection, as well as the notion of like, a Global Soldiers of Odin, so the slogan “United We Stand, Divided We Fall” became much more prominent, profile pictures and cover pictures on facebook started showing banners claiming Soldiers of Odin Worldwide, lapel pins of Canada and Finland started appearing in conjunction, or replacing the standard Soldiers of Odin image, so to me it seems that therefore the Soldiers of Odin have resolutely embraced the Finnish association, so embracing simultaneously their association to racism and white supremacy as it is held. And I think that’s one aspect that’s quite important when we talk about their community service, we need to keep in mind what is underpinning this ideology and this movement
JT: Yannick Veilleux-Lepage is one of Canada’s leading researchers on the Soldiers of Odin, we reached him in Scotland.