City of Hamilton to investigate how former white-supremacist leader got hired

Hamilton's first black councillor, Matthew Green, says he felt betrayed and threatened by the city's hiring of former Heritage Front leader Marc Lemire.

Marc Lemire says he now rejects the Heritage Front and he's not a Nazi

The City of Hamilton has promised to look into the fact that Marc Lemire, a former white supremacist leader, was hired to work in the city's IT department. (Colin Perkel/The Canadian Press)

The City of Hamilton is pledging to conduct a "thorough investigation" after concerns were raised that the former head of a white supremacist organization has been working in the city's information-technology (IT) department since at least 2012.

Matthew Green, who was Hamilton's first black councillor from 2014 to 2018, said he felt betrayed and threatened to learn of the city's employment of former Heritage Front leader Marc Lemire.

Green and other community members have raised privacy and safety concerns about Lemire working in IT, and want to know how much the city knew about his past when it hired him.

In an email to CBC News, Lemire said he rejects the Heritage Front and he's neither a white supremacist nor a neo-Nazi. He says it is not true that he was once the leader of the Heritage Front.

There has been no public allegation of wrongdoing by Lemire in his work for the city.

City says 'appropriate action' will be taken if necessary

Councillors discussed the revelation at length behind closed doors late Wednesday, after which the investigation was announced.

Lora Fontana, head of the city's human resources department, said Thursday that staff can't comment on personnel matters, but they do take allegations about inappropriate behaviour and "possible misconduct" seriously.

"It is important that we take a measured approach to the investigation to ensure we gain a deeper understanding of the situation, determine the facts, and remain respectful of all concerns and parties throughout the process," she wrote.

The statement did not say what the investigation will consider.

Matthew Green, seen in July 2018 announcing his intention to run for the federal NDP in the next election, has privacy and safety concerns about Lemire working in Hamilton's IT department. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Along with community members, Green, an outspoken anti-racism advocate, wants to know what sensitive personal information Lemire has had access to as part of his work, and if he accessed any of it inappropriately.

They also want to know if the city knew of Lemire's background when it hired him, and whether staff took steps to hide or conceal Lemire's employment at the city.

If the investigation "substantiates a policy violation, appropriate action will be taken," Fontana said.

Lemire's extension hasn't been accessible in the dial-by-name directory, and only a human switchboard operator would connect a caller. The only online document connecting Lemire to his department is an organizational chart in a 2012 budget document.

Lemire denies involvement 'in politics'

Multiple sources have confirmed Lemire's employment to CBC News, and Vice Canada reported it Wednesday.

The city would not say when Lemire started working, but a 2012 document with his name on it shows he has been there at least that long.

In his email to CBC Hamilton, Lemire said that he "has not been involved in politics for many years."

Lemire took over leadership of the Heritage Front from its neo-Nazi founder in the late '90s, and ran it until its demise in 2005. (thefreedomsite.org)

Lemire's known involvement in white-supremacist activities began more than two decades ago. In 1996, he launched a website called The Freedom Site, styling himself as a free-speech crusader. The site was last updated in 2015.

Lemire has also been closely connected to white nationalist Paul Fromm, who recently moved to Hamilton and ran for mayor last year.

In a statement sent to CBC News, Lemire said the website now acts as an archive of his battle against the now-repealed Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. While he lost his challenge of the definition of internet hate speech under the Act, his fight contributed to the repeal of Section 13.

"The Heritage Front stuff dates back to when I was a teenager," he said, linking to an article in which he said he's not a Nazi or white supremacist.

Paul Fromm, a white nationalist and known associate of Lemire, ran for mayor of Hamilton last year. (CBC)

"I reject the Heritage Front for what it was, as I have stated consistently for over 11 years."

Councillor 'satisfied' matter is being taken seriously

Green said he has serious concerns about how much of his personal information and communications Lemire has access to.

He said the city has eroded public trust by appearing to cover up Lemire's employment, and questions whether it's letting white supremacists infiltrate local government.

"Quite frankly, I find it frightening," Green said in a written statement, adding he felt betrayed by former city manager Chris Murray, and senior city staff, "who must have been in the know and willfully kept this potential threat from me."

I can't stress enough how seriously our staff are taking the situation.- Coun. Nrinder Nann

Murray is now the city manager in Toronto. A statement from a spokesperson there said Murray was unaware Lemire worked for the City of Hamilton.

Hamilton Coun. Nrinder Nann said she was also "surprised and concerned" to learn of Lemire's past.

Nann said she couldn't provide details about the investigation, but said she's happy one will take place.

"I can't stress enough how seriously our staff are taking the situation," she said.

"I feel satisfied as as councillor that the areas I wanted to make sure were integrated, and [that] other councillors raised as concerns, will be addressed."

with files from Samantha Craggs