Soldiers of Odin marching Edmonton streets
They travel in a group through the streets of Edmonton.
About 10 men, all are wearing matching insignia on their backs, a Norse horned helmet with a Canadian flag for a beard.
They're hard to miss on the sidewalks of Alberta's capital. They are the Soldiers of Odin.
While some see them as protectors, others consider them glaring examples of the worst in society. To the Anti-Defamation League, they are an "extreme anti-refugee group."
Regardless of what they are, the group has been spotted at least twice on Edmonton streets — on July 23 and Aug. 28.
As a response to the influx of refugees, the group was founded in late 2015 by Mika Ranta, a self-proclaimed Finnish white supremacist.
According to the group's bylaws, their goal is to take back the streets, and patrols are their way of doing that.
Insp. Dan Jones
Insp. Dan Jones said police haven't received any complaints about the group. (CBC)
Insp. Dan Jones said the Edmonton Police Service is aware of the Soldiers of Odin but haven't yet received any complaints.
"At this stage, we have a group of people that have associated [themselves] with a group that are internationally extremely negative," Jones said. "In the city of Edmonton context that we have right now, we have seen no violence, no complaints, no threats, nothing criminal."
Jones said police have spoken to the group.
"They are reporting they are not the same type of group, that they are not anti-immigration or radical right."
Jones said the group described itself as a Guardian Angel-type group focused on volunteerism.
'If they are the Soldiers of Odin like they are in Europe, we are going to be very concerned.'
- Insp. Dan Jones
"If they are the Soldiers of Odin like they are in Europe, we are going to be very concerned," Jones said. "But at this stage, we don't have any reason to believe they have engaged in criminal activity."
According to their bylaws, members see themselves as a "non-racist conservative organization that seeks to keep Canadians safe in their daily activities."
Those same bylaws, however, lament a federal government that accepts "refugees from countries that hate us" and lets "illegal aliens" into the country, giving them "the ability to vote and drive."
Soldiers of Odin Edmonton 2
The Soldiers of Odin out on a patrol in Edmonton in late August. (Facebook)
"People think we're some sort of white-power group," Joel Agnott, the SOO national president, told CBC News in early August. "We're not affiliated with any of that. We have had a few of those members, and we've kicked them out."
The bylaws state the group believes "in protecting the streets with observe-and-report-style patrols, and if necessary to come to the defence of anyone who may need us. We are the eyes and ears of the police in places that the police cannot always be."
The group has said it wants to co-operate with local law enforcement.
Angott said the group supports "sustainable immigration," and calls on the government to thoroughly screen new immigrants, and ensure newcomers "want to come in and follow Canadian law."
"We don't want people coming in and pushing any kind of agenda on Canada," he said.
Social media diatribe
The ADL has said that U.S. groups, much like the Canadian chapter, claim to be staunchly non-racist, but "the official stance of the group and the beliefs of the group's membership and supporters are two very different things."
That seems true, based on the Canadian group's social media accounts.
Their main Facebook pages express strong anti-Islamic sentiments. In early August, the page posted a long diatribe about how there is a "fundamental contradiction" between being a devout Muslim and "respecting the countries of the world."
"Muslims advance a definition that Islam is a shining beacon against the darkness of repression, segregation, intolerance, and racism," it reads. "Nothing could be further from the truth!"
Irfan Chaudhry teaches criminology at MacEwan University and studies online hate crimes at the University of Alberta. (KIM NAKRIEKO, CBC)
When it comes to racism, actions speak louder than words, said Irfan Chaudhry, a criminology instructor and hate crime researcher at MacEwan University.
'At the end of the day, these groups are coming together because of what they perceive to be an infestation of other groups'
- Irfan Chaudhry
"It's obviously veiled, but it's very transparent in terms of what they're actually trying to do. It does definitely have anti-immigration, anti-Muslim, anti-coloured folk sentiment that does fuel a lot of the rhetoric," Chaudhry said.
"At the end of the day, these groups are coming together because of what they perceive to be an infestation of other groups."
Chaudhry said intimidation is certainly a goal of patrols such as these.
Soldiers of Odin Canada
The insignia used by Soldiers of Odin Canada. (Facebook)
"It's troubling to hear about anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim groups engaging in so-called street patrols," the National Council of Canadian Muslims told CBC News in a statement.
"We would call on the local police authorities to monitor such activities closely and to take the necessary steps to ensure the safety of local residents. We know that Canada is a safe, welcoming country, which prides itself on its diversity."
'Can easily be considered a hate group'
The ADL is blunt in its assessment of the group.
"An examination of the members and supporters of Soldiers of Odin USA leaves no room for doubt: though not all such adherents of the group are white supremacists or bigots, so many of them clearly are that the Soldiers of Odin can easily be considered a hate group."
The report said there are four typical types of members of the Soldiers of Odin: white supremacists, Norse pagans, anti-Muslim bigots and anti-government extremists.
When asked for an interview or comment, the group said, "we'll get back to you," but never did.
Both Chaudhry and the ADL say social media allows for the spread of such groups. Chaudry said the impact of the internet is two-fold.
"I think the power of social media relies on how we share it," Chaudhry said. "When it is visible and we're able to track it, it allows us to feel we do not want this to shape who we are. It gives us the opportunity to resist, both online and even offline."
That sentiment is reiterated by Jones. He said certain media outlets worldwide spread racially divisive information that can be widely shared.
"Those divisive racial reports, I truly believe, are allowing groups on every side of the coin to recruit and grow in strength and numbers," Jones said.
"My concern is that, instead of being good allies in the community where we need to all band together regardless of our race, religion, gender, sexual orientation and be allies for each other, we're allowing some of this stuff in a geopolitical environment to really fracture our society."
With files from Samantha Cragg