TORONTO — Wolfgang Droege, a white supremacist, Nazi sympathizer and former leader of the Heritage Front, was shot to death in the hallway of a Toronto apartment building yesterday.
Mr. Droege, 55, who had a lengthy criminal history including drug charges, was found dead in a second-floor hallway on North Dr. in the Upper Beaches.
Officers from the Toronto Police Emergency Task Force responded to a report of gunshots in the building just before 3 p.m. and discovered that a man, believed to be the assailant, had barricaded himself in an apartment.
Superintendent Bob Clarke of 41 Division said crisis negotiators took over at that point and spoke to the man over the telephone.
“I understand there was telephone communication between the suspect and the ETF officers. After a brief period of time it was resolved and we took the person into custody.”
Another man, whom Supt. Clarke identified as the suspect’s brother, arrived at the scene and spoke with the man over the telephone, but it is not known whether that intervention played a role in the eventual surrender.
Mr. Droege, born in Germany in 1949, came to prominence as a leading figure on the extreme right in the 1970s. In 1975 he painted the words “white power” along the planned parade route for an African Liberation Day march and was arrested for damaging property.
In 1981, in perhaps his most spectacular political foray, he was one of 10 men convicted of plotting to overthrow the government of Dominica.
They planned to use the Caribbean island as a base for drug smuggling, thereby generating funds for white supremacist activities elsewhere in the world. He served two years in U.S. prison for the conspiracy.
Mr. Droege returned to Canada in 1989 after serving more time in U.S. prisons for drugs and weapons offences. He quickly set about establishing a network to unite far-right groups in Canada under the auspices of the Heritage Front.
Bernie Farber of the Canadian Jewish Congress, who campaigned against the Heritage Front in the 1990s, said that for a time under Mr. Droege’s leadership there was increased interest in the group’s brand of extremism.
“They were getting 200 to 300 people at rallies,” Mr. Farber said. “During his leadership the Heritage Front was one of the most deplored racist organizations of its day.”
Mr. Farber said Mr. Droege has been out of the spotlight for more than seven years, since the Heritage Front collapsed and white supremacists in Canada fell into political disarray.
“We knew that he maintained some kind of connection to the racist right, but he was never the public face again,” Mr. Farber said.
“This man’s criminal history is quite lengthy so I don’t think it was any great surprise that he lived on the dark side and was taken by the dark side.”
Kimberly Gorman, who lived in the same building as Mr. Droege, said she thought he had been trying to change his ways over the past several years.
He travelled to Europe frequently, she said, but certainly didn’t have a typical 9-to-5 job. He slept during the day and did most of his living at night. About six months ago he complained that someone had tried to break down his door, and he showed Ms. Gorman the damage.
She said his apartment was usually messy, but there was never any sign of the white supremacist politics he espoused publicly over many years.
“He was a very nice man,” she said. “I think for the past five years of his life he was trying not to be the guy that he once was.”
She also said he was extremely health conscious, always watching what he ate and taking many vitamins.
During yesterday’s standoff, which lasted about an hour, dozens of heavily armed ETF officers swarmed the apartment building on the quiet suburban street. Several pensioners were caught in the building, but many were taken out by the ETF. A local school was placed on lockdown for a short time, police said.
Jason Tanzola, who has lived three doors down from Mr. Droege for two years, was shocked to find his neighbourhood transformed into a heavily guarded armed camp.
He described Mr. Droege, whom he knew simply as Wolf, as one of the nicest guys in the world.
“I used to walk by him in the hallway and we’d say hello. If it is what people are saying it is, I’d be quite shocked, because I wouldn’t peg him as somebody who’d be a racist.”
Toronto Police did not release the name of the man being held in connection with Mr. Droege’s death.