Hamilton

LGBTQ advisory group calls on city to not fly Pride flag, citing Marc Lemire case

The city has also heard from a prominent human rights lawyer, who says Holocaust denial material on Lemire's website as recently as this month.

'We're going to have to do some communicating on this issue,' says Mayor Fred Eisenberger

Marc Lemire leaves a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal hearing into a complaint against him in Oakville in 2008. Lemire works as an IT analyst for the city. (Colin Perkel/The Canadian Press)

The city's LGBTQ advisory group says it doesn't want to the city to fly the Pride flag this year, part of mounting dissent over the city employing the former head of a white supremacy group.

By employing Marc Lemire as an IT network analyst, the city "has failed to materially demonstrate solidarity with Hamilton's two spirit and LGBTQIA+ citizens," says the group's motion. Lemire's employment, its members say, "threaten(s) the safety of all marginalized city staff and volunteers."

Instead of a flag raising, the motion says, the committee wants to have an "open community discussion" at the original time and place of the May 31 flag raising.

It's just the latest call for the dismissal of Lemire, who court documents show once worked full time for Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel.

Lemire, says a 2005 court document, was working "to develop websites to disseminate messages of racial hatred and to incite violence."

From the late 1990s to 2005, Lemire ran the Heritage Front white supremacy group. He also ran The Freedom Site, which is still online but hasn't been updated since 2015. Lemire said last week that the site is an archive of his free speech battle.

A Vice Canada article says Lemire started working for the city in 2005.

Some councillors 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 earlier email to CBC News, Lemire said he rejects the Heritage Front and he's neither a white supremacist nor a neo-Nazi.

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

Richard Warman, a human rights lawyer who battled Lemire at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, emailed Hamilton councillors this week. He urged them to fire Lemire, saying the Hamilton man only recently stopped publishing Holocaust denial material.

Warman sent councillors screen shots from Lemire's site that he says he took in early May. "In the Second World War many Jews suffered," reads one page, "but the European Jews were not exterminated, nor were they the principal sufferers."

Those same links now go to an archived page about section 13 of the Human Rights Act, which Lemire's case has been credited with striking down. An CBC internet archive search reveals only that the Holocaust denial material was there as recently as January.

"Based on the fact that Holocaust denial material remains available on Marc Lemire's website, I submit to you that he is not fit to be an employee of the City of Hamilton," Warman told councillors.

Lemire referred to these activities as "politics" in his email last week, saying he has "not been involved in any politics for many years and am completely out of the political spectrum."

"Once Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act was repealed by the Government of Canada in 2013, I took my leave from all political activity," he wrote. "My website simply contains an archive (2015 and back) of history related to Internet censorship in Canada and the successful battle against civil prohibitions of speech in Canada.

"I have nothing to do with the Heritage Front and dispute the claims contained in the Vice article. The Heritage Front stuff dates back to when I was a teenager. I reject the Heritage Front for what it was; as I have stated consistently for over 11 years."

City manager Janette Smith is investigating the circumstances behind Lemire's hiring. Mayor Fred Eisenberger said Warman's email will be part of it.

Employees, he said, "all have different concepts, ideas and views. This one is certainly offensive to me, and I'm sure offensive to other people. If the evidence is that these are issues that are closely held, and he still is participating on active basis, then we'll have some serious issues to consider."

The city doesn't typically make personnel issues public, but Eisenberger said given the high profile of this one, "we're going to have to do some communicating on this issue."

As for the advisory group, its motion won't happen unless a councillor decides to champion it.

A subcommittee of council, then city council, approves the group's minutes. But the group is only an advisory body, said Coun. Sam Merulla, so "the motions are out of order."

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