Three members of the Soldiers of Odin were arrested by Vancouver police after disrupting an anti-racism gathering on Sunday.
The march was organized by the Pacific Coalition Against Bigotry, which has been leading these marches annually for decades.
The Soldiers of Odin share a name, but they say not an ideology, with an anti-immigrant group in Europe. The Canadian chapter’s Facebook page says they “first and foremost are here to help any Canadian in need regardless of race, colour or creed.”
Gurpreet Singh attended the march on Sunday. He said the scuffle between the Soldiers of Odin members and the other protesters broke out shortly after the event reached Victory Square at 2 p.m.
“They were already arguing. We noticed a heated exchange between two guys,” said Singh, an independent journalist who has been attending the annual marches for over a decade.
“These, the Soldiers of Odin, were holding a Canadian flag and they wanted to wade into the crowd where everyone was gathered.”
The organizers tried to stop them, he said, and then the altercation broke out.
A person responding to a message sent to the Soldiers of Odin Facebook page confirmed their members had attended the march to protest Antifa, a group that describes itself as “engaged in struggle against all fascists, nationalists, white supremacists, and Nazi sympathizers.” The spokesperson did not reply by deadline about the fight.
“We made a presence there to expose Antifa for what it actually is – not to intimidate or harm anyone,” the person using the Facebook page told Black Press.
Singh said the Soldiers of Odin had been hurling insults at marchers before the fight broke out.
“I cannot 100 per cent say who started it first, but obviously the Soldiers of Odin were trying to wade into the crowd and the crowd didn’t want them to be any closer,” he said.
According to VPD Const. Jason Doucette, officers had been assigned to assist with the march and only acted to prevent the “pushing and shoving” from getting worse.
“In an attempt to prevent the situation from escalating, police officers arrested three men … for breach of the peace and removed them from the crowd,” said Doucette. “These men identified themselves as members of the group Soldiers of Odin.”
The gathering continued after the arrests were made. The three men were released without charges later that day, after the gathering had concluded.
The Pacific Coalition Against Bigotry has not yet responded to requests for comment.