Windsor's mayor has responded to a controversy over a photo taken with a member of a hate group.
The snapshot was taken at a community walk last Sunday on the Ganatchio Trail in east Windsor, honouring an elderly woman who was attacked while on the trail. The picture features Mayor Drew Dilkens and Police Chief Al Frederick flanking James Godden, who has been identified as a member of the Soldiers of Odin. This group has been described as anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim.
The photo has appeared on Godden's own Facebook page. On it, Godden describes himself as president of the Essex County chapter.
Neither Dilkens or Frederick were aware of Godden's background when the picture was snapped. Both were participating in the community walk to honour Anne Widholm, a 75-year-old woman who remains hospitalized after being savagely attacked on the Ganatchio Trail.
When reached by BlackburnNewsWindsor.com, the mayor said the photo was just one of about a dozen he posed for during the walk.
"There were probably about 400 or 500 people there, and as I was walking with the chief of police, this person came up, introduced himself as a businessman on Drouillard Rd and asked if I would take a picture with him and the chief would take a picture with him," says Dilkens.
The picture was snapped and the mayor did not think anything of it until he got a call from The Huffington Post asking about it.
"That person posted somewhere, someone knew about his connections with some other groups and it began to make its rounds on social media," says Dilkens.
Soldiers of Odin members have been photographed with public officials before. Last year, Sudbury's police chief apologized after he allowed himself to be photographed with group members, saying he would not have posed for the photo if he knew who they were.
Dilkens says he and Frederick would not have agreed to pose for the photo if they knew about Godden's background, but he says it's impossible to screen everyone who asks him for a picture.
"If someone were to come up to me and say 'I'd like to take a picture with you', and I know that they're someone who's disrespectful to people in my community and part of a group that is not generally accepted because of their views on immigrants and Muslims or others, certainly I would choose not to take that photo," says Dilkens.
Wikipedia describes the Soldiers of Odin as an anti-immigrant street patrol group founded in Finland in 2015 as a response to the European migrant crisis. The group has members throughout Scandinavia, plus the US, Britain, Germany and Canada.
On several occasions in the past, the group has denied being a neo-Nazi or hate group.
Frederick could not be reached for comment Sunday. Windsor Police tell Blackburn News that the service would not comment on the issue until at least Monday.