May 3, 2017

Soldiers of Odin splinter in Canada over 'racist agenda' of far-right group's leadership in Finland

A Soldiers of Odin member eyes a counter-protest on Parliament Hill on Tuesday, March 21, 2017
Stewart Bell
National post
May 1, 2017

TORONTO — The far-right group Soldiers of Odin has splintered in Canada after the two main factions turned against each other in a dispute over whether to remain aligned with their racist namesake in northern Europe.

The split began last week when the president of Soldiers of Odin Canada, Bill Daniels, denounced the “racist agenda” of Soldiers of Odin leaders in Finland and said his branch was no longer associated with them.

“Their ridiculous belief in racism has always been a huge issue for us in Canada as we do not support or share their views on race,” Daniels said on Facebook, calling the Finnish leaders “racist, unorganized, reckless” thugs.

The Finnish leaders of the anti-immigrant group responded by expelling Daniels and banning him from using the name Soldiers of Odin. The Quebec branch then said it was also splitting away from the Daniels wing.

“There is indeed a disconnect between SOO Quebec and SOO Canada,” said the Quebec chapter president, Katy Latulippe. “As the provincial president, and with a unanimous vote, we decided that Quebec would dissociate Canada.”

The Daniels faction “will no longer be allowed to wear the colors of the Soldiers of Odin,” she said. “It is important to know that more than 50% of the divisions in Canada do not agree with Bill Daniels and also wishes to continue their activities under the banner of the SOO.”

The Soldiers of Odin emerged in Finland in 2015 as an anti-immigration group closely aligned with the racist far right. It spread quickly to Europe and North America but since arriving in Canada a year ago it has struggled with its identity.

While the Canadian chapters have emphasized their community volunteerism, organizing events such as food drives, they have also clashed with anti-racism demonstrators, and posted blatantly anti-Muslim rhetoric on social media.

“It is an important group and it is growing tremendously,” said Yannick Veilleux-Lepage, a Canadian researcher at the Handa Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St Andrews.

Working with Emil Archambault of Durham University, Veilleux-Lepage has identified 265 Canadians associated with the Soldiers of Odin. An analysis of their Facebook linkages showed a close connection between the Canadian members and their Finnish and Swedish counterparts, he said.

“What that tells us is that members of the Canadian group are quite interlinked with at least the membership of the Finnish group,” Veilleux-Lepage said in an interview.

That means that while the Canadian groups claim to be distinct from their racist Finnish namesake, they interact with them online and share the same anti-immigrant narratives, Veilleux-Lepage said.

The research results undermine the significance of the split between the Canadian and Finnish Soldiers of Odin over racism, he said. “The idea of Soldiers of Odin as a multicultural group, it’s not the reality we’re seeing.”

Soldiers of Odin Canada declined to comment on the study. A Facebook post by the group’s spokesman, Mike Montague, suggests the dispute is at least partly over money. He wrote that the Finland group wanted to collect an annual fee from each member.

“As for Quebec SOO they have decided to denounce us and continue working with Finland even though the rest of Canada SOO is running independent from Finland SOO,” the group told the National Post. “As far as we are concerned the Quebec SOO has gone rogue from SOO Canada’s national leadership.”

Although the Canadian offshoot insists it is not racist, its Facebook page calls Islam a “totalitarian ideology” and speaks of a war “with all of Islam.” The page also supports Sandra Solomon, the former spokeswoman for the Toronto-based anti-Muslim group Rise Canada.

The study, which has not yet been published, raised concerns about the growth of Soldiers of Odin, given its anti-Muslim, anti-immigration rhetoric and the apparent overlap of its membership with supporters of outlaw biker gangs like the Hells Angels.

Veilleux-Lepage said there had always been an ideological gulf between the Canadian and Quebec factions, with the latter being more anti-immigration. But he said ultimately the current split might not mean much. “We don’t think it’s that clear of a breakup.”

National Post
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