Anarchists, the controversial Soldiers of Odin and a member of parliament were all involved in heated confrontations and violent clashes at a rally for the International Day to Eliminate Racism and Discrimination.

A video posted to Facebook by a member of the Coalition Against Bigotry shows Vancouver police intervening in a scuffle where several men are wrestling over a Canadian flag, after what appear to be heated conversations at the event Sunday afternoon.

The VPD briefly arrested the owner of the flag, identifying him and two other men detained as members of the Soldiers of Odin.

“One of our members was flying a Canadian flag and [some of the protestors are anarchists,] are communists. They don't agree with our government and democracy, so they grabbed it and hit him a couple times,” said Michael Montague, national spokesperson for the Soldiers of Odin.

The group has been a lodestone for controversy since chapters started forming across Canada last year. On social media, domestic chapters post Facebook Live videos and photos highlighting humanitarian volunteerism, including feeding the homeless, picking up dirty needles from public parks and what they call “prevention walks” in public places. But critics say with their black clothing and aggressive logo, the group seeks to intimidate those around them, particularly non-whites.

The Soldiers of Odin first formed in Finland, where they are openly far-right anti-refugee vigilantes. Their logo and name is tied to Norse mythology, whose symbolism has been adopted by many neo-fascist white supremacist groups.

“Racism shouldn't exist in our society, it's a shame it does,” Montague told CTV, insisting the club has a diverse membership that supports immigration and multi-culturalism.

When asked why they wouldn’t simply form a new club without the racist overtones and political baggage of SOO, Montague answered "because that would be backing down and I don't give up. This is a great organization, I did lots of research on it when I first joined.”

He admits the group’s reputation has attracted racists looking for kindred spirits, but claims the group actively screens prospective members and sanctions anyone violating their rules.

Jenny Kwan, the NDP Member of Parliament for Vancouver East, says one of those members caused the majority of the conflict at the rally on Sunday. Kwan and her staff identified a man in a black hoodie and sunglasses as hurling racial slurs at attendees and accusing Kwan herself of being anti-immigrant.

"To have someone say to your face that I'm anti-immigrant… I'm an immigrant! It's quite shocking to me,” Kwan said, recalling her alarm at the violent clashes.

"I was taken aback and a little bit shaken by all of that. In all of my years -- and I've been involved in activism, politics, for more than 25 years -- I have never encountered a situation where a smoke bomb was dropped, have never seen police intervention and have somebody on the ground and cuffed in that way."

Montague insists his group had nothing to do with a small smoke canister that spawned a purple haze clearly visible in photos from the rally. He blames a small group of anarchist anti-fascism protestors for the device and for grabbing the flag that triggered the fighting.

In one of the photos associated with the event, a masked protestor holding an “end racism” sign is flanked by two more masked demonstrators. Long associated with the anarchist movement, Antifa anti-fascism activists have proudly adopted the anonymity of the mask and advocate matching violent racists with more violence and “militant resistance”.

Coalition Against Bigotry member Fatima Jaffer tells CTV News she appreciated the anarchists jumping to the defence of anti-racism activists she felt were being intimidated and attacked by the Soldiers of Odin, pointing to one man in particular as the instigator. But she admits she at first believed the masked attendees to be the Soldiers of Odin, who don’t appear to have concealed their faces. They also didn’t wear their branded vests at the event.

Jaffer blames Vancouver police for the violence, suggesting they should’ve intervened sooner.

“I think they expected their presence to calm things down, but it actually escalated the situation,” said Jaffer.

The entire incident is an exercise in contradiction: the anarchists were there in support of the anti-racism message, but masked in such a way their intentions were unclear. The Soldiers of Odin claim they were there in support of immigration and diversity, but three of their member stand accused of intimidation, an accusation that feeds the rumours of their true motivation.

Both sides claim to support the same core principle of inclusion and acceptance of different cultures, yet both were quick to violence when provoked – seemingly by each others’ mere presence. In today’s increasingly polarized climate, such clashes are bound to become more common.