The mayor and police chief in Windsor, Ont. are under fire for posing for a photo with the local president of Soldiers of Odin, a group that pushes anti-Muslim and anti-immigration views.
The creator of the blog Anti-Racist Canada told HuffPost Canada that the picture sends the wrong message to minorities and people from marginalized communities, who often have reasons for fearing police.
Really @WindsorPolice and @drewdilkens? You thought taking a photo with a member of the Soldiers of Odin was a bright idea, did you? @TheWindsorStar @CTVWindsor @CBCWindsor @HuffPostCanada @rp_browne @MackLamoureux @StewartBellNP @ebalgord pic.twitter.com/ufoyUSZ4ja— (((ARC COLLECTIVE))) (@ARCCollective) October 17, 2017
"To see them taking pictures with anti-immigrant groups and smiling for the camera, it just breeds more distrust, and I can't blame anybody for that feeling," said Chris, who asked that his last name be withheld because he has been threatened before for his anti-racism work.
The city officials took the photo with James Godden, the president for Essex County's Soldiers of Odin chapter, over the weekend at a community walk. Windsor police Sgt. Stephen Betteridge said the event was hosted by the mayor after the assault of a 75-year-old woman.
Betteridge told HuffPost that police chief Al Frederick took hundreds of photos with attendees that day, and has made a point of making himself "incredibly available to the community."
He said it's impossible for the police chief to know the background of each person he's posing with.
Clear 'what he's about': blogger
"There is no possible way, nor legal way for someone — the chief in this case— to kind of check everyone's background and history prior to taking a photo."
"That wouldn't be practical at all."
But Chris said the fact that the man is wearing a Soldiers of Odin vest makes it clear "what he was and what he's about."
You take a look at some of their closed Facebook groups, you still have people posting the same kind of anti-Islam, anti-immigrant rhetoric that had existed before.
Soldiers of Odin started two years ago following the arrival of thousands of asylum seekers in Finland. Its founder Mika Ranta is a white supremacist convicted in a racially motivated assault.
The Canadian president of Soldiers of Odin told CBC News in August that the group supports "sustainable immigration." Other members insist they're not anti-immigration and try to highlight their community efforts like volunteering at soup kitchens and neighbourhood patrols.
Offshoots of the group in several Canadian cities have claimed they're no longer affiliated with the original Soldiers of Odin. However, groups in Edmonton, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Sudbury, Ont. and Gimli, Man. have all retained the original name.
"They've been trying to hide it a little bit more, but you take a look at some of their closed Facebook groups, you still have people posting the same kind of anti-Islam, anti-immigrant rhetoric that had existed before," Chris said.
He said when a chief of police poses for a photo with groups like Soldiers of Odin, it gives them a sense of credibility.
"I just essentially want the police (and) all civic authorities to do a better job of vetting the people who they talk to, and don't give these individuals a platform for their views."
Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens did not respond to messages requesting comment for this story.
In August, the police chief in Sudbury, Ont. swiftly apologized after posing for a photo with Soldiers of Odin members at a community event.
"Recognizing that there are those that associate the Soldiers of Odin with far-right views, especially with current events being what they are globally, I could have and should have politely declined this request," Paul Pedersen told The Sudbury Star.