A group of Albertan conservative candidates are in some hot water after taking some photos with easily identifiable members of a far-right group over Thanksgiving weekend.
According to a gloating post on Facebook after the event, there were several far-right groupsknown for their stance against immigrants in attendance of a conservative meet and greet—the Soldiers of Odin, the militia-like group III% Alberta, the Proud Boys, the Soldiers of Christ, and the Clannsmen (the latter explains away their unfortunate name by saying “2 n's because they are a completely different group.”)
The event was at an Edmonton bar for a United Conservative Party pub night and the happy crew took several photos with the three candidates. The candidates are all vying for the same Edmonton nomination in the upcoming Alberta election. While there were numerous far-right groups in the pub, by far the largest group in attendance were the Soldiers of Odin, who have been operating in Edmonton for over two years now. The anti-Muslim group is best known for their vigilante styled street patrols. A 2017 Canada Border Services Agency Intelligence Bulletin about them stated "some members adhere to extreme right-wing ideology and are not afraid to use violence to achieve objectives."
In all of the shots, the Soldiers of Odin gear—leather jackets, hats, shirts, and rockers— worn by the crew is on full display.
All three candidates in attendance at a pub night—Leila Houle, Nicole Williams, and Lance Coulter—took pictures with the group. Two of the three have since vocally denounced the groups and said they were not aware of what the groups were or what they stood for. Williams and Houle released a joint statement together whereas Lance Coulter has been quiet on the issue.
"We were unfortunately not aware of what the abbreviation "S.O.O." stood for when these individuals entered the public venue… nor were we aware of this group's disgusting views,” reads a portion of the joint statement. “Had we known at the time, we certainly would not have had our pictures taken with these individuals."
This isn’t the first time the UCP has had to apologize for their candidates either tacitly or explicitly endorsing far-right views. In the past year the party has become known for its poor vetting as candidates have been outed as having worked on the Trump campaign, using anti-Muslim slurs, being homophobic, and the list goes on and on. Across Canada numerous people, from police chiefs, to mayors, to politicians have courted controversy by posing for photos with the Soldiers of Odin or similar groups. Right-wing politicians, like Kellie Leitch or Maxime Bernier, have been accused of dog whistling to groups like this with strong anti-immigration messages.
The SOO incident was, after blowing up on social media, first amplified by the left wing organization Progress Alberta. Duncan Kinney, the executive director of Progress Alberta, takes issue with this attempt to “handwave the situation away” (full disclosure, I know Kinney personally).
"The Soldiers of Odin made province-wide news in Alberta and Edmonton last month. They've been in the news multiple times since they've popped up here. They all showed up wearing matching hats and hoodies and T-shirts and patches, including full back patches that say 'Soldiers of Odin: Edmonton' on them,” Kinney told VICE.
“The UCP folks were either too dumb to realize who these people were or they were happy to have the support, either way, they don't deserve to be in office."
Ratcheting up the weirdness, the UCP is now saying that this controversy was orchestrated by an Alberta Separatist named Dave Bjorkman who was out to “cause mischief.” UCP party leader Jason Kenney tweeted he was “disturbed to learn that a UCP pub night in Edmonton was crashed by supporters of the fringe ‘Alberta Independence Party,’ including members of hate groups.” Bjorkman, on Facebook, states that he was invited to the event and disputes their claim.
The Soldiers of Odin were founded in Finland in 2015 by a self-described white supremacist named Mika Ranta—who once did time for assaulting a refugee. Despite the current crew of Canadian Soldiers of Odin members knowing full well who Mika Ranta is and what the name implies they have still steadfastly kept the title. There have been splinter groups that broke off in order to distance themselves from Ranta, but the current Canadian crop is comfortable with that connection.
At best, it is really difficult to understand why alarm bells weren't going off for the UCP politicians. The Odin members were wearing clearly identifiable clothing and colours—leather jacket or rockers with the SOO logo and skull. At the very least, they look like they are in a biker gang. If we take the candidates at their word than they are admitting that—in a time when the ideology championed by these organizations is becoming more and more prevalent—they’re ignorant of the far-right groups that pepper the country.
Sign up for the VICE Canada Newsletter to get the best of VICE Canada delivered to your inbox.
Follow Mack Lamoureux on Twitter.