“HATE IS NOT WELCOME HERE!”
Protesters demand ultra right-wing group leave the area.
On September 3, a group of around 70 protesters gathered in front of The Mustard Seed on 96 Street to protest the anticipated presence of the Soldiers of Odin (SOO), a far-right extremist group that has been labelled as neo-Nazi.
The Soldiers of Odin publicized on social media that they were going to be handing out food to those in need in at The Mustard Seed, despite the agency being closed that day and the Edmonton and District Labour Council’s annual Labour Day BBQ taking place four blocks away in Giovanni Caboto Park.
“We chose to stand up to this group because we know what it stands for – they’re an explicitly anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim vigilante organization, founded by a neo-Nazi in Finland to harass migrants,” says Jim Storrie, an area resident.
“McCauley is a very diverse neighbourhood,” he continues. “We have a lot of neighbours who are immigrants, neighbours who are Black, Indigenous, or visible minorities, neighbours who are struggling with homelessness, and neighbours who are Muslim. We’re very concerned that if a group like this gets a foothold in the area they will harass and intimidate people in our community- or worse.”
Protesters gathered well in advance of the noon time advertised by the Soldiers of Odin in hopes that the group would not show at all. As well a large number of EPS officers were on the scene, including several from the Hate Crimes Unit.
To avoid the protesters, the Soldiers of Odin set up in a vacant lot about one block south of The Mustard Seed. The protesters marched over there and continued chanting, holding signs, and challenging the group on its beliefs.
“It’s pretty clear that they’re not here with great intentions. As local folks will know, the day they came out – Labour Day – is when we have the great community barbecue at Giovanni Caboto Park. There was more than enough food to go around that day in McCauley. If they had really wanted to get people fed, they would have left their leather jackets at home and volunteered at the barbecue like normal folks do,” he says.
“You can’t overlook what this group is just because they’re showing up with a box of granola bars every other month. A lot of people don’t know what this group is about because it’s fairly new, but you have to ask yourself – what if it was ISIS, or the Klan? Would you welcome them to the neighbourhood just because they were bringing some sandwiches?”
Soldiers of Odin was founded in Finland in 2015 as a response to thousands of migrants arriving in the country. While the group has denied claims of being racist or neo-Nazi in interviews and social media, the group’s founder has connections to the far-right, neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement and a criminal conviction stemming from a racially motivated assault in 2005.
Affiliates of the group now have a presence in other countries, including Canada. A post on the Soldiers of Odin Edmonton’s public Facebook page later in the day on September 3 read, “We are anti Islam.” The following day, a post read, “Say no to Islam!! Stay safe for school today children (smiley face).”
Many of the protesters were area residents, but some came from other parts of the city to add their solidarity, like Rev. Lindsey Jorgensen-Skakum, Pastor at Holy Spirit Lutheran Church. “As a leader within the Lutheran faith community, I feel it is important to stand for justice, love, acceptance, and peace both within and outside of my church community,” Jorgensen-Skakum explains. “So, joining my voice with those within the McCauley community as they stood up to the Soldiers of Odin was an easy decision for me. I believe we are stronger as a community when we can openly live our lives without fear of oppression. Diversity is one of our greatest strengths in Edmonton and I will continue to support those taking a stand against all the unsubstantiated fears that cause our world so much violence and hate. I hope that through my presence at the protest the people of McCauley knew there are Christians who stand for love, justice, acceptance, and peace within our great city.”
“We didn’t just want to tell the Soldiers of Odin that they’re not welcome here. We wanted the rest of the city to see that [SOO is] not welcome here, too, because these groups are telling people that they’re coming to McCauley to help,” says Storrie. “We don’t want our community being used as a prop to support a hate group.”
The protest remained peaceful and the Soldiers of Odin left swiftly after they finished handing out food.
Representatives of The Mustard Seed have publicly stated that the organization was not affiliated with the event nor did they approve the use of The Mustard Seed’s name in the Soldier’s of Odin’s publicity.