Hamilton

Marc Lemire and city 'mutually agree' to end his employment following investigation

The city of Hamilton and a worker with ties to white supremacy groups have "mutually agreed" to end his employment according to a statement from officials that says there was "no evidence" he inappropriately accessed any data or private information.

City says 'no evidence' Lemire inappropriately accessed data or private information

Hamilton says the city and Marc Lemire have mutually agreed to end his employment in its IT department. (Colin Perkel/The Canadian Press)

The City of Hamilton and a worker with ties to white supremacist activities and groups have "mutually agreed" to end his employment in the city's IT department.

City manager Janette Smith said Friday investigations by outside agencies found "no evidence" Lemire inappropriately accessed any data or private information. But Lemire's "off-duty activities and associations did not reflect the culture, values and beliefs of the city," she said.

The news comes after two sources with knowledge of the employment probe told CBC News Lemire wouldn't be returning to his role. The only questions, sources said, were the nature and details of his departure.

Smith wouldn't address those questions or whether his departure involved a settlement. 

"I really appreciate the interest that the public has in this situation," she said. "But I think everyone can appreciate that it's an employee matter, so I can't elaborate."

"Thank you for your patience. I wanted to make sure it was thoroughly done, and I'm confident that it was."

Workplace investigations

Smith's statement follows a three-month investigation into Lemire's workplace activities.

"There was however no evidence that Mr. Lemire inappropriately accessed, utilized or gathered any data, including city emails or private information, or that he inappropriately used any city equipment," Smith said.

Lemire said in an email sent in May saying he's not a white supremacist or a neo-Nazi. CBC News has asked him for comment about the decision to end his employment.

This summer has seen a number of concerns surrounding hate bubble up in Hamilton.

Lemire's employment became one flashpoint amid other issues, including a violence at the LGBTQ festivalclashes between yellow vest protesters and counter-demonstrators outside of city hall, and criticisms of the reaction of police and civic leaders.

Sunira Chaudhri is a partner at Levitt LLP who specializes in employment law. She has no involvement in this case, but spoke to CBC News about what factors are typically discussed behind closed doors in employment situations like this.

She said the "process" Smith mentioned was most likely a negotiation about whether a resignation is possible, or the city will be forced to fire Lemire.

"I think what the city is probably looking to do is see how they can manage this from a PR perspective," she explained.

"Can we get him to resign and not have to pay him anything? Or, if we have to terminate him, is this a situation where we're going to have to pay him a really big severance? Is that going to draw the ire of the public as well? It's a tricky situation to be in."

Safety, privacy concerns raised

Lemire has been on paid leave since May 8, after Vice first reported on his role with the city. Several people, including former city councillor Matthew Green, questioned how much the city knew of his past when it hired him.

The city called in two outside agencies to probe what information he accessed at the city and whether he was still involved in white supremacist activities, among other details.

Lemire has been working in the city's IT department since about 2005. He had ties with the white supremacist movement dating back to the early 90s, and at one point, worked full-time for Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel, a 2005 court document shows. He was working "to develop websites to disseminate messages of racial hatred and to incite violence," it says.

Lemire also maintained a website he characterized in May as a free speech site. He called it an "archive," although an internet search revealed it was modified as recently as January. Ottawa lawyer Richard Warman sent screen shots of pages of holocaust denial material that he says was still on the site in May. The website now appears to be inactive.

Lemire says he's not a white supremacist or neo-Nazi. (thefreedomsite.org)

Court documents also describe Lemire as former head of the Heritage Front until the organization's demise, which happened around the same time the city hired him. He denies ever having been leader of the group.

In early May, Lemire told CBC News he hasn't been involved in "any politics" for many years, adding the "Heritage Front stuff" dates back to when he was a teen.

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

Minimal step

Kojo Damptey, interim executive director for the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion, said Lemire's departure was "a minimal step." He wants to know more, including how the city looked at information accessed. 

So does Green, who represented Ward 3 from 2014 to 2018. He was Hamilton's first black city councillor.

"It is important to the public interest for the city to share the steps that were taken from a forensic perspective to come to this conclusion so that we may know definitively that this was the case," he said.

"I would like to know what the city manager identified as key systems failures of HR, and specifically who knew what when, so that the public may be assured that this will not happen again."

Smith said the city will be looking at its hiring processes, although she couldn't say when that would happen. 

Balancing act

Chaudhri said a situation like this becomes a balancing act for an employer.

On one hand they have to evaluate an employee's past — on the other is the person's conduct on the job.

Sunira Chaudhri with Levitt LLP said negotiations between employers and workers in cases like this can be a balancing act. (CBC)

"The real burning question is, if somebody engaged in some kind of bad deed prior to their employment with the city, should that be held against him now?" she asked.

"If he was a reasonable employee otherwise, the city is going to have to sit and think about 'Are we opening ourselves up to terminating [him] and basically leaving this employee out to dry?'"

Doing that could expose the city to liability, so officials and their legal team would have been "running the numbers" and trying to figure out if keeping him employed could expose them to future human rights complaints, Chaudhri added.

"Is it going to be more expensive to terminate him and potentially have him come back and sue us for who knows how long? Or are we going to really feel the heat from [the] public?"

Silence around agreement likely to continue

The lawyer said that from Lemire's perspective, she doesn't see any reason why he would resign without a payout of some sort.

"If he were to resign it would give him zero option to get any compensation."

City officials stayed tight-lipped about Lemire during the investigation, with Smith citing concerns around employee confidentiality and a need for a thorough, respectful process.

Chaudhri said that silence is likely to continue.

"The confidentiality piece on it would be pretty big," she said. "I'm sure both parties, the employee and especially the city, would want any terms related to a payout going to him to be highly confidential."