The Soldiers of Odin are no longer volunteering at the Blue Door Soup Kitchen, says soup kitchen's president.
Mark Leduc said the soup kitchen's board of directors met last weekend to further discuss the controversy surrounding the Soldiers of Odin and the work its members were doing there. It was decided to cut ties with the group after mounting pressure to do so.
An online petition was started by the Sudbury Anti Fascism group, demanding the Soldiers of Odin be removed from the Blue Door Soup Kitchen, claiming the SoO’s presence has “led to the intimidation and harassment of Soup Kitchen users, many of whom have no choice but to stay away and hungry on days when the SoO are volunteering.”
“We ask that the Blue Door Soup Kitchen forbid the Soldiers of Odin from the Soup Kitchen premises,” the petition said. “We also ask that the Blue Door Soup Kitchen, and anybody who has been connected with the Soldiers of Odin, publicly distance their organization from them.
“The SoO are a vile cancer in our society, but they have recognized there are hungry people who need to be fed. Fortunately, we do not need a racist gang to do that! Sudbury Against Fascism will be putting up our own volunteers at the soup kitchen, and we call on others to volunteer with us as well.”
The fact members were volunteering at the soup kitchen arose after a photo of Soldiers of Odin member posing with Greater Sudbury Police Service Chief Paul Pedersen was posted to social media. The backlash from the public garnered a public apology from Pedersen. It also put the Soldiers of Odin in the limelight.
“When the Soldiers of Odin started volunteering, we didn't know anything about the group itself and its worldwide affiliations,” Leduc said. “It wasn't until the picture with the police chief became an issue, and then people started voicing their concerns.”
The fact soup kitchen users and patrons felt intimidated by the Soldiers of Odin's presence is news to him, Leduc said.
“We were never made aware of those feelings,” Leduc said. “It had never been brought up to the board.”
Furthermore, Leduc said he wasn't even aware that a petition was circulating online until today.
“We have never had any discussions with the Sudbury Anti Fascism group,” he said.
Prior to cutting ties with the Soldiers of Odin, the soup kitchen had asked members not to wear any colours or emblems that go against the soup kitchen's values. That wasn't enough to mitigate any concerns.
“We've always prided ourselves at the soup kitchen to be inclusive and to serve everyone with dignity, regardless of faith or dietary concerns,” Leduc said. “It's never been an issue. Hopefully, we can now put this matter behind us, and we can focus our attention on serving the community. Our volunteers, staff and board members work diligently to make the soup kitchen happen every day, and we want to focus our attention on that.”
The Soldiers of Odin started out as a far-right extremist group in Finland two years ago, but since splitting with the main group in May, chapters in Canada have been trying to show they're different.
In a previous interview with Sudbury.com, David MacKinnon, president of the Ontario chapter, said the group is trying to prove it's not racist.
"I find what's hurting us is the fact the police chief made that statement apologizing and that he shouldn't have taken the picture," he said.