The City of Hamilton has employed a former leader of one of Canada's most infamous neo-Nazi groups for more than a decade, VICE has learned.
Marc Lemire, a long time white supremacist activist who was the leader of the neo-Nazi organization Heritage Front from 2000 to the mid-2000s, has been working as a network analyst in the IT department for Canada’s tenth largest city since around 2005, according to a source. Lemire is best known for running hate-filled websites and fighting a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal complaint over a racist and homophobic blog post hosted on one of his sites.
For years, Lemire was influential in the neo-Nazi movement, guiding his fellow Canadian far-right extremists into adopting the internet as a propaganda tool. Active in the far-right movement since he was a young man, Lemire created one of the world's first online message boards for white supremacists and a myriad of other websites to host and push far-right propaganda. The 44-year-old is also the founder of Freedomsite.org, a still-active website that has hosted articles focused on minorities and immigration, one which led to Lemire being hauled before the Human Rights Tribunal.
A source with direct knowledge of the situation told VICE that Lemire was hired around 2005 and his role as a network analyst allowed him access to sensitive data regarding Hamilton employees. Around the same time of his hiring by the city of Hamilton—the early to mid-2000s—Lemire was in the midst of his failed effort to restore prominence to the neo-Nazi group the Heritage Front, a group one anti-racist researcher described as “the most significant hate group in Canada since the Klan of the 1920s” and the government called, in 1994, the “the most prominent white supremacist group in Canada.” While Lemire denies being the leader, court records and an article (available on Lemire’s own website) written by Heritage Front founder Gerry Lincoln indicate Lemire was an important member during Heritage Front’s heyday and the group’s leader in its waning days.
A Veteran Employee
Through the use of online documents, a physical staff directory, and by visually identifying Lemire at Hamilton's IT department VICE has confirmed Lemire is an active employee at the City of Hamilton. According to the source, Lemire’s presence was a quiet one—his name was kept off the city’s automated phone line, work charts, email directories, and he only appears to be named in publicly available documents once. Lemire doesn’t provide his name nor title on his voicemail message at the City of Hamilton instead listing the extension number. According to people familiar with the workflow of Hamilton city workers all of the above is unusual for a city employee—other employees contacted at their extension by VICE identified themselves by their name and title in their outgoing message. To add to all this, Lemire doesn’t have a LinkedIn profile nor any sort of online footprint connecting him to his longstanding employer.
After initially contacting him a week prior, when VICE attempted to contact Lemire for a final time on the day this story was published, Lemire’s phone extension was out of service—his email did not send a bounceback.
Matthew Green is a former city councillor of Hamilton who recently left the job to run in the federal election for the NDP and is the current executive director of the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion. Green, the city’s first elected black man—and first elected person of colour—told VICE he faced harassment on the job including multiple death threats which required police intervention. Green told VICE he felt disgusted upon learning of Lemire’s employment and felt betrayed no one made him aware a man with connections to the neo-Nazi movement was working in the IT department and was in a role which, according to the source, allowed him backdoor access to the data of City of Hamilton employees. VICE has not seen anything indicating Lemire used his access for any sort of nefarious means.
“Given Marc Lemire's ties to violent white supremacist organizations, I feel that both my family and I were placed in a serious undue risk of harm,” Green told VICE. “At the very least I would have expected and rightly deserved a private and confidential briefing from our City Manager and the Director of Human Resources as was typically the case with instances of HR matters relating to identifiable individuals of potential public interest.
“People with Marc Lemire's publicly reported past and extremist ties should never be provided high level access to private and confidential government information," Green added. "I am not suggesting that he should have been excluded from all aspects of municipal employment but working in public works or economic development is a much different level of access and insider knowledge and information than a senior IT analyst with the city. Quite frankly I find it frightening."
“I find it unfathomable that the most senior city staff, the city's HR department, and all the way up to the city manager did not know about Marc Lemire,” Green later added.
Lemire, alongside the majority of people connected to the City of Hamilton who were contacted for this story, did not offer any response to a request for comment. VICE called Lemire on his work phone several times, left him a message, and sent him an email outlining a list of questions regarding his employment. During several of the calls the phone hung up after a single ring. VICE contacted Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger about Lemire’s employment and was told in a statement the city “does not provide comment on any personnel matters. Further, we cannot comment on, nor are we always privy to, the personal beliefs of employees.”
“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,” read Eisenberger’s statement. “We are committed to being a #HamiltonForAll and ensuring persons affected by hatred can find refuge in our great City.”
When asked for comment on the matter, the office for Mike Zegarac, the current city manager, referred VICE to Mayor Eisenberger’s statement.
A 2012 budget for the City of Hamilton lists Lemire as a network analyst working directly under Peter MacNeil, the city's current chief technology architect. VICE tried to reach MacNeil by both phone and email, he did not respond to VICE’s request for comment.
‘Lemire Was Front and Centre’
The Heritage Front—which, according to a former member, wanted to take over part of the country and turn it into a “whites only” territory—was known for its gang-like violence in the 1990s, organizing white power campaigns and concerts, and trying to infiltrate politics. In 1994, one of the Heritage Front's leaders was outed as a mole for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. According to his own website and public records, after the CSIS revelation, Lemire attempted to pick up the pieces of the group in 2000 or so and transform it into a group resembling modern day white nationalist and alt-right organizations like those associated with David Duke or Don Black of Stormfront. He ultimately failed in his goal, and by the end of the decade the group was no more.
Lemire laid the groundwork for the communication networks of the modern day far-right. The person who runs the Anti-Racist Canada blog—a longstanding website chronicling the far-right in Canada—has for years been documenting Lemire’s connection to far-right extremism. According to the researcher, who has asked to remain anonymous due to repeated and serious threats of violence, "While [Lemire] wasn't as publicly facing as some, he was more knowledgeable about the way the internet could be used to disseminate propaganda. He was one of the earliest users, not just in Canada but internationally.” He described Lemire as one of Canada’s most influential racists in modern history.
In recent years, Lemire has attempted to position himself as a free-speech activist, denied being a neo-Nazi, and has downplayed his connections to the far-right as periphery. Elisa Hategan is a reformed former neo-Nazi who now educates about far-right extremism. Hategan, like Lemire, was an important member of the Heritage Front during the mid-90s. Hategan told VICE during those days Lemire was a “very obliging foot-soldier” who was groomed for leadership.
Hategan told VICE that Lemire was “front and centre” at get-togethers for the Heritage Front and she was shocked when told that Lemire denies his connection to the group.
Lemire was in the public spotlight for his fight against the Canadian Human Rights Commission—a fight sparked by an article he hosted on his site called “AIDS Secrets,” which attacked both the gay and black community by blaming them for the AIDS epidemic. After fighting the CHRC, challenging the law as unconstitutional, and attempting to portray himself as a free speech martyr, Lemire finally lost in 2014 but wasn't assessed any penalty. Richard Warman, a human rights lawyer and the main complainant for Lemire’s Human Rights Tribunal case, told VICE any attempt at divorcing the City of Hamilton employee from his racist legacy is foolish.
"[A justice] of the Federal Court found Marc Lemire was the last known leader of the violent neo-Nazi group the Heritage Front,” said Warman. “The Federal Court said the evidence showed that Lemire was also a full-time flunky for Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel who was declared a national security threat to Canada and [was sentenced to] five years in a German prison for his hate propaganda.”
"Any claim by Marc Lemire that he was ‘on the periphery’ of the neo-Nazi movement in Canada is delusional and revisionist history."
According to the source, due to this work Lemire would at times have “complete access to all mailboxes in the City.” VICE asked MacNeil if Lemire ever have had this sort of access but was not provided with a response. Green says he has “deep concerns about this breach of public trust knowing now that this person may have had complete and undetectable access to these communications.” Green said he is considering legal action to confirm Lemire didn’t access his data inappropriately. VICE has no evidence that Lemire used his job or access for any nefarious purposes.
One of the city managers who Lemire worked for almost a decade is Chris Murray, Toronto’s current city manager. Toronto’s top bureaucrat denied any knowledge of Lemire’s employment.
“I'm not aware of any of this, but an expectation I have, at a minimum, is that members of the public service must conduct themselves with integrity in and out of the workplace,” Murray told VICE in an email. When asked if he believes he should have been made aware of Lemire’s employment, he simply said “yes.”
Members of the Heritage Front have never hid their political ambitions nor their efforts to infiltrate politics. One group of members famously attempted and failed to infiltrate the Reform Party to take advantage of its inexperience in the early 1990s. Members would also routinely run for various positions in government. Heritage Front co-founder Wolfgang Droege ran as a councillor in the 1994 Toronto municipal election garnering 15 percent of the vote. Lemire himself ran for a school trustee position in Toronto Public School Board in 1997 and as recently as last year, neo-Nazi Paul Fromm, an associate of Lemire who once lost his teaching licence for his close neo-Nazi ties, ran for Hamilton mayor. These efforts and Lemire’s position is not something lost on Green.
“I feel that as a high level IT analyst Marc Lemire's employment in this role is a form of active infiltration by [the far-right] within Canada,” Green told VICE. “I can't express my deepest professional and personal disappointment enough.”
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