Hamilton

Former leader of white supremacy group works in Hamilton's IT office, sparking concerns

Hamilton's first black city councillor says he fears for his family's safety knowing the former head of a neo-Nazi organization works in the city's IT department.

'The Heritage Front stuff dates back to when I was a teenager,' says Marc Lemire

Marc Lemire, former leader of the Heritage Front, is employed in the City of Hamilton's information technology office. (thefreedomsite.org)

Hamilton's first black city councillor says he feels betrayed by the City of Hamilton for employing the former head of a white supremacist organization in its IT department.

Matthew Green says that as an outspoken anti-racism advocate, he has serious concerns about how much of his personal information and communications Marc Lemire, a former Heritage Front leader, can access.

Green, a councillor from 2014 to 2018, said the city has eroded public trust by appearing to cover up Lemire's employment, and he questions whether it's letting white supremacists infiltrate local government. He wants to see an investigation into whether any breaches of his privacy or of city information occurred.

Lemire said in an email to CBC Hamilton that he's not a white supremacist or neo-Nazi, and that he "has not been involved in politics for many years."

There is no evidence of any wrongdoing by Lemire in his work at the city.

It's not clear what data and emails he had access to in his IT role, and the city won't say. It also won't  address whether it made attempts to cover up his employment. Multiple sources have confirmed Lemire's employment to CBC News, and Vice Canada reported it Wednesday.

Green said he feels less safe given Lemire's Heritage Front ties. Senior officials had to know about it, he said, and he wonders if other people with white supremacist ties work for the city.

"Quite frankly, I find it frightening," he said in a written statement. 

"I feel betrayed" he said, by senior city staff  "who must have been in the know and willfully kept this potential threat from me."

Green isn't saying Lemire shouldn't be allowed to work, but not at a government job where he has access to sensitive information.

"I have deep concerns about this breach of public trust knowing now that this person may have had complete and undetectable access to these communications."

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

Lemire got involved in the white supremacy movement in the early nineties, and started a website called The Freedom Site in 1996. It was last updated in 2015.

Lemire took over leadership of Heritage Front from its neo-Nazi founder in the late 90s, and ran it until its demise in 2005. On The Freedom Site, Lemire styled himself as a free speech crusader. He challenged the definition of internet hate speech under the Canadian Human Rights Act, and while he lost that challenge, it contributed with the repeal of section 13 of the act. He was represented by Brighton lawyer Barbara Kulaszka, who died in 2017. Lemire was scheduled to speak at her memorial.

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

CBC News asked to speak with Lemire. He sent an emailed statement saying he has "not been involved in politics for many years and am completely out of the political spectrum." The website now, he said, is simply an archive of his battle against section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. After that, he said, "I took my leave from all political activity."

'I reject the Heritage Front for what it was'

"The Heritage Front stuff dates back to when I was a teenager," he said. He also linked to an article where he said he's not a Nazi or white supremacist.

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

Talk of Lemire's City of Hamilton employment, and what information he can access about residents and employees, has percolated at the city for months. 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.

Green said the city appears to have been covering for Lemire.

"The level of apparent coordinated cover up on the employment of Marc Lemire is indicative of at the very least a basic acknowledgement of his perceived threat to the corporation and the public at large," he said. "Otherwise why go to such lengths to hide him for so many years?"

At least one resident said senior city officials were told about Lemire's Heritage Front history at least as far back as the fall.

'We were talking about stocking up on guns and weapons'

Craig Burley, a local lawyer and activist, said he's worried if Lemire can see emails from himself and others. He wrote to Lora Fontana, director of human resources, and Jodi Koch, the city's director of talent and diversity. He even met with Fontana. He also filed three Freedom of Information Act requests.

Like Green, Burley said he's worried who can access his communications now. "This is a terrible situation," he said. "This stinks."

Elisa Hategan, who's a writer, speaker and regional co-ordinator of Against Violent Extremism, was involved in the white supremacy movement in the early 90s. She says Lemire was always handy with computers. He was one of the first in the movement to be online, and worked with computers in the office of notorious Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel.

"He started coming around from 1992 onward," Hategan said. "He was at every meeting, every rally. At these meetings, we were talking about white revolution and taking over the country and creating a white ethnostate in parts of Canada. We were talking about stocking up on guns and weapons, and he was part of it all."

The city said it won't comment on individual employees, or say what data Lemire can see.

'A safe and respectful workplace'

"We are dedicated to ensuring a safe and respectful workplace for all," said spokesperson Jen Recine in an email.

A written statement from Mayor Fred Eisenberger says "we do not provide comment on any personnel matters. Further, we cannot comment on, nor are we always privy to, the personal beliefs of employees."

The city has policies outlining how employees are expected to behave at work, Eisenberger said, and those policies "ensure a safe and respectful workplace for all."

"From a broader city perspective, the City of Hamilton encourages all Hamiltonians to stand up against prejudice, exclusion and discrimination based on ethnicity, race, religion, country of origin, disability, sexual orientation or other differences," he said. "We are committed to being a #HamiltonForAll and ensuring persons affected by hatred can find refuge in our great city."

City council are discussing the matter in an in-camera meeting Wednesday.

About the Author

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca