It’s 2018, and we’re arguably living in the most tolerant and diverse time in history. From politics to pop culture, we’ve realized that the empowerment of all people is only beneficial. Congratulations, racism is over and we can all go home now! But if that’s true, why are the white supremacist groups of Edmonton allowed to hang out with political party representatives in a bar?
Recently, the United Conservative Party (UCP) hosted a pub night at Brown’s Social House as a way to meet with supporters and share views on politics. As part of the proceedings, nomination candidates Nicole Williams, Leila Houle, and Lance Coulter posed for a picture with a group of men who were in attendance. The only issue is that those men were later identified as members of the Soldiers of Odin (SOO), a far-right, anti-immigration group.
While the UCP claimed ignorance of what “SOO” stood for at the time, Williams later condemned them, stating “their hate is not welcome in our party.” As well, Houle clarified that she was “beyond upset” and “as an indigenous woman, I condemn — in the strongest way possible way — the SOO.”
Williams and Houle did the responsible thing by condemning the views of these people. But Coulter decided to “give them the benefit of the doubt.” While the other two candidates claimed they didn’t know who the SOO were, Coulter admitted to looking them up when he saw their insignia and continued conversation with them. He defended their constitutional rights to freedom of speech, stating they “weren’t inciting violence, they weren’t inciting hate. They were acting friendly, they were people just having a beer who wanted to have a conversation.”
This is perhaps the most disturbing element of this story. We tend to distance ourselves from the notion that hatred like what the SOO advocates can exist in our communities. We often think of ourselves as outsiders looking in on hate groups in the United States like the KKK or the Westboro Baptist Church, thinking such things could never happen here. We want to picture hate groups as wearing white hoods or with arms outstretched in a Nazi salute, but the truth is that hatred blends in uncomfortably well with the normal crowd.
The SOO website is a prime example of this type of camouflage. They describe themselves as a “non profit organization that helps their local communities with charity, good will, and believes in our charter of rights and freedoms.” They renounce claims that they hold racist intentions, proclaiming that they’re “here to help any Canadian in need regardless of race, colour, or creed.” While this mission statement seems admirable on the surface, it loses all its merit when you consider this was the same group to organized an anti-Islamic candlelight vigil for September 11, titled “Infidels against Islam.”
Hatred doesn’t always manifest in an obvious way. Members of hate groups like the SOO don’t fit any one physical description or set of criteria — they could be anyone, including our friends, coworkers, and even our family. And sure, they can have freedom of speech, but not freedom from consequences. So while Coulter relaxes and shares a drink with the SOO, the rest of us need to use our freedom of speech to condemn and disassociate ourselves from these groups to ensure the safety of the members of our community. Racism and hatred take many forms, and we can’t give them the benefit of the doubt, no matter what they look like.