An Open Letter To: Chantal Mathieu, Director, Environmental Services, City of Greater Sudbury.
It’s recently come to my attention via a post made to social media that there is an organization in our City that has been picking up and disposing of used needles found in municipal parks and on the City’s trails. Please see this post, for more information: https://www.facebook.com/SpottedatSudbury/posts/759248067581230
I am writing to you today because I am concerned about a number of items in relation to this matter. First, the group in question, the Soldiers of Odin, are a white supremacist, anti-immigrant organization that has been engaged in a public relations campaign to create acceptability of their organization through community outreach initiatives. The public relations campaign is designed to project a veneer of public respectability for an organization founded on hate and anti-immigrant values – and which to this day has not repudiated those stances, despite claims of having reformed. Many of the members of Canada’s various Soldiers of Odin chapters remain engaged in anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim politics, and routinely appear at protests directed against Muslims (see: "Far-right Soldiers of Odin members ‘not afraid to use violence,’ intelligence report warns," Global News, June 28, 2017).
While appropriate waste disposal of refuse found in our community spaces is something that is generally undertaken by municipal staff, I understand that picking up refuse from our public spaces is a task that all community members are urged to undertake. To that end, the City of Greater Sudbury provides a number of options to facilitate community involvement in keeping our public spaces clean, including Adopt-A-bin, -road and –spot initiatives, along with organizing Clean Up Blitzes. The City even supplies volunteers with materials to assist with clean-up (see: "Litter Clean Up Programs," City of Greater Sudbury). I’ve had the pleasure of participating in a number of these efforts.
At all times of my public participation, I’ve been required to sign a waiver, indicating that I understand the hazards associated with the volunteer work, and indicating that I would not hold the City liable should I injure myself while picking up refuse in our City’s public spaces.
I don’t know whether the Soldiers of Odin have similarly signed liability waivers prior to what appears to be their participation in organized efforts to clean up used needles from our parks, but I would strongly suggest that if members of the Soldiers of Odin haven’t acknowledged that they won’t hold the City liable during their clean-up efforts, that there may be an unacceptable level of risk for the City here – especially since the Soldeirs of Odin appear to be targeting a very problematic form of refuse for their clean-up’s (used needles, which are a biohazard). It is also unclear what training group members may have received in advance of these organized clean ups that would, at least in part, help address liability issues associated with the clean-up and disposal of biohazards. I believe that these sorts of clean-up tasks are best left in the hands of our municipal professionals to deal with, unless community groups can demonstrate a satisfactory level of expertise.
I suspect that the Soldiers of Odin, who appear to have little respect for Canada’s laws, given their obvious and contrary view of Canada’s top law, our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, have even bothered to contact the City to address potential liability issues with their efforts to dispose of biohazardous materials. I sincerely hope that the City of Greater Sudbury will take appropriate action and advise the Soldiers of Odin to desist from their undertakings, out of concerns related to the City’s exposure to legal action, and out of respect for our unionized professional staff whose job it is keep our parks and public spaces clean and free of hazardous materials.
However, if the Soldiers of Odin are operating with permission of the City to engage in efforts to clean up our public spaces, I would like to take this opportunity to remind the City of its own Diversity Policy, which clearly states that “equality and inclusion are fundamental human rights for every individual,” and that, “leading by example, we aspire to make diversity a core and abiding strength of the City of Greater Sudbury.” As outlined in the City’s Diversity Policy, the City of Greater Sudbury will, “encourage public and private organizations to respect and adhere to the objectives of this policy.” Further, the Diversity Policy calls on all organizations in the community to “ensure that all existing policies and practices..are built upon non-discriminatory bases.
The Soldiers of Odin, through their continued white-supremacist and anti-Muslim activities, are not an organization that shares these values of equality and inclusion. Given the City’s Diversity Policy, an organization that does not value inclusivity, and whose core values are at odds with these values, should not be associated with the City of Greater Sudbury in any manner – and that includes their participation in activities like cleaning up refuse and biohazards from our municipal public spaces.
As someone who is concerned about creeping hate in our society, I am strongly urging the City of Greater Sudbury to take public action to distance itself from the activities of the Soldiers of Odin, and to take whatever actions may be necessary, including and up to legal actions, to prevent the Soldiers of Odin from using our parks and public spaces as a part of a public relations campaign. If the City has inadvertently authorized the activities of this group, without the knowledge that their stated values are contrary to the City’s Diversity Policy, I sincerely ask that you revoke whatever permissions you may have granted this organization.
The presence of anti-Muslim organizations like the Soldiers of Odin in our community is bad enough as it is, but I accept that it is likely that something that very little can be done about, unless legal lines are crossed. That’s the price that we have to pay for living in our democratic society, under the rule of law – and I for one accept having to pay that price. However, accepting the presence of an organization that threatens and bullies Muslims in the name of white supremacy does not mean that our municipal corporation should be seen as condoning these efforts. Indeed, the best course of action is, in my opinion, confronting the hatred of these organizations, and publicly declaring that they are unacceptable in our community, due to their discriminatory values.
Of course, beyond that, I remain concerned about the liability exposure that the City may be accepting by allowing untrained professionals to organize clean-ups of biohazardous materials in our parks and open spaces. I would be concerned about these activities no matter whether it would be the Soldiers of Odin or the Green Party undertaking this sort of clean-up. And based on the liability waivers that I have had to sign in the past, I know that this is a real issue for the City.
For their information, I’ve copied this email to all members of Greater Sudbury Council, as the issues I’ve raised here with you may not all be within the purview of Environmental Services to address. I’ve also copied Darryl Taylor, President of CUP local 4705, for his information, due to the labour issues identified here. I’m also sharing this email with the Sudbury Muslim Society, and the Islamic Association of Sudbury, as they may not be aware of anti-Muslim group operating in our community.
I am also posting this letter to my blogsite, so as to share my thoughts and concerns with the community at large.
Thank you for your time and consideration of these issues. I look forward to hearing back from the City with regards to the matters that I've raised.
(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)