The Soldiers of Odin are on patrol in Maple Ridge.
The group has sparked controversy as it appears in Canadian cities because it shares a name with an anti-immigration organization from Europe.
The Soldiers of Odin has twice conducted neighbourhood watch patrols in Maple Ridge, including last weekend.
Soldiers of Odin began patrols in Vancouver in September. The group has chapters in Vernon, Kamloops and other cities across Canada.
Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read fears vigilantism, and has heard from others in the community with questions about the group.
Soldiers of Odin members wear black jackets with a back patch showing their namesake – a Norse god with a Maple Leaf flag for a beard.
“I think there is a lot of concern,” said Read. “We have RCMP to maintain safety in this community.”
Read said the group has never contacted city council.
“What is your intention in our city? Thanks, but no thanks,” she added.
Read also referred to Soldiers of Odin groups in Europe, where they are openly anti-refugee and anti-immigrant.
The European group, founded in October 2015 in Finland, has been called white supremacist and vigilante.
It’s founder was a self-declared neo-Nazi.
“Why, all of the sudden, would this be on the rise?” asked Read. “I thought we had progressed well past that sort of mentality.
“Maybe there has been a shift – look what just happened in the election in the U.S.”
National president for Soldiers of Odin Canada Joel Angott addressed questions and criticism of the group on its Facebook page:
“The patrols are a neighbourhood-watch-based activity, with a focus on the safety of women [and] children and the elderly. They also look for hazards and unsafe conditions in parks and playgrounds, also identifying obstacles for people with mobility issues. Our organization helps clean up, rejuvenate dilapidated areas that our cities and communities have neglected for many years.”
He said groups like the Anti Defamation League have created a misperception of Soldiers of Odin in Canada.
“While we are out working to better our communities and cities, making them safe and accessible, they scrutinize our activities and motives, calling us out as racists. It is our hope that, in time, citizens of all races and religions come to see the peaceful nature of our activities, and see that we are a neighbourhood watch organization with no racist agenda as we stand for the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We are here for all Canadian citizens, recognizing that Canada is a multicultural mosaic.”
Nicci Doyon went on patrol with the group in Maple Ridge as a photographer. She has friends in the group, and is a supporter of the patrols.
“I think it’s awesome – it makes people aware that there is someone watching,” she said. “It makes your community feel safer.”
She said the group went through back alleys and “bad areas” of the city. Members stopped to politely answer questions from citizens.
There were just six members on the first patrol, but 16 on the second. They split up to cover more of the city.
Doyon said the Maple Ridge chapter is supporting a local family for Christmas, giving a mother and three children a Christmas tree and decorations, groceries for Christmas dinner, and gifts.
“She has had a rough go,” said Doyon. “She’s right out of a safe house.”
And, she said, Soldiers of Odin do charity work for homeless people in other cities, and plan to bring it here.
“They are not a vigilante group that is mean and violent,” Doyon said.
Members carry a first-aid kit on patrol, and are going have a Narcan kit and training to treat a drug overdoses with Naloxone.
“I totally believe in what they’re doing,” Doyon added. “They have jobs and families and lives, but they’re giving their time.”
The Soldiers of Odin national Facebook page has a long entry titled “Islam – A Religion Based on Terrorism.”
It reads: “Muslims advance a definition that Islam is a shinning beacon against the darkness of repression, segregation, intolerance, and racism. Nothing could be further from the truth!”
The author is identified as Soldiers of Odin Canada.
There are also numerous entries about battles with ISIS, alongside patriotic sentiment and warnings about criminals or criminal activity.
The B.C. chapter spokesman has said the Canadian group is independent of others in Europe.
Read noted that Charter rights to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly allow this kind of group to operate, as long as members are not doing anything unlawful.
But, she added, it “should be on the RCMP’s radar.”
– with files from CTV BC