The City of Hamilton is reckoning with its long-time employment of a former leader of one of Canada’s most infamous neo-Nazi groups.
Hamilton city council held a lengthy closed door meeting Wednesday night after a VICE investigation revealed the employment of Marc Lemire, the former leader of the Heritage Front, who had been working in the city’s IT department for over a decade.
After the closed doors meeting Wednesday night, Hamilton city manager Janette Smith told media in a scrum that an investigation will take place regarding Lemire’s employment and the city’s handling of it.
"I will be ensuring it's a very thorough investigation because the concerns are serious,” Smith said, according to the Hamilton Spectator. They also reported Smith would attempt to make the process as open as it can be.
Smith has not yet responded to VICE’s request for comment. Prior to the closed door meeting, councillor Brad Clark said he was getting phone calls regarding Lemire.
“There was a media report, and I don’t want to get into the details, but if we could get an information report back on the code of conduct for municipal employees and how it would deal with the propagation of hate or racism, things along that line, because I am getting calls and it would be helpful is [all of the councillors] had all the information for how we deal with an employee that was found in that situation,” he said during the council meeting.
The executive director of human resources Lora Fontana then told Clark they were going to discuss the issue “in camera”—meaning it would be behind closed doors. According to journalists at city hall, the councillors were behind closed doors for four and a half hours where they were brought up to speed on the status of Marc Lemire’s employment and more.
Lemire’s notoriety and the odd circumstances surrounding his employment—being kept off some directories, leaving his extension number instead of his name in his outgoing message—have led some online to speculate that Lemire’s employment was kept under wraps by the city. Former city councillor Matthew Green told VICE he believes the city knew of Lemire's past.
“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," Green said. "Otherwise why go to such lengths to hide him for so many years?"
The city is staying mum on the issue, but one Hamilton lawyer told VICE the city has been aware of Lemire’s background since November, at the very least. Craig Burley said that he found out about Lemire’s employment last year and in November brought it to the city. First he flagged it with a councillor who immediately got the city’s HR department involved. In an email Burley showed to VICE, the head of the City of Hamilton’s HR department called Burly into a meeting to discuss his “allegations regarding a City employee and his/her involvement in hate propaganda activities.”
Burley says that he prepared a two-page document of what he knew and Lemire’s background and presented it to two HR employees but he does not know if anything was done. Now, with Lemire’s employment being publicized, he hopes proper steps will be taken.
“We do not yet know the means by which the city hired and maintained the notorious Mr. Lemire, who has been the author and spreader of so much racist hate, for work in such a sensitive security position,” said Burley.
“My personal view is that we should find out in full, and that he should be un-hired.”
While Lemire didn’t respond to VICE’s numerous requests for comment, he sent an email to other outlets denying his ties to the far-right and downplaying his role in the Heritage Front. This is something Lemire has long attempted to do, beginning with his attempts to portray himself as a free speech martyr during his lengthy battle with the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
The Hamilton Spectator writes that in an emailed statement Lemire called himself a "well regarded IT professional" who "always conducted" himself "with the highest integrity." Lemire also said he had "nothing to do with the Heritage Front” and that “stuff dates back to when I was a teenager." In 2001, an article published on the Heritage Front website shows Lemire handing out flyers saying “immigration can kill” it also features a response written by Lemire to an article about the Heritage Front. Lemire would have been about 26 at the time. Further to that, in another post, also from 2001, written by Heritage Front founder Gary Lincoln (and still hosted on Lemire’s Freedomsite webpage), Lemire is referred to as “head honcho” and his racist laurels are flaunted.
“This is more or less an open letter to the new leadership, specifically Marc Lemire, who seems to have assumed the role of head honcho and put his good name on the line. It's a thankless job, but I guess somebody has to do it,” Lincoln wrote.
Lemire’s role with the Heritage Front has long been on the public record. In 2005, Canadian Federal Court Justice Pierre Blais, in a ruling set to declare notorious Holocaust denier—and associate of Lemire—Ernst Zundel a threat to national secuirty, stated that Lemire was “ the last known president of the Heritage Front.”
“Wolfgang Droege and Marc Lemire, two successive presidents of the Heritage Front, spent a lot of time in Mr. Zündel's house,” reads the decision. “Mr. Lemire, the last known president of the Heritage Front, was working for Mr. Zündel part-time, and then full-time for many years until Mr. Zündel left for the United States.”
The 44-year-old Lemire told media on Wednesday that he "rejects the Heritage Front for what it was.” While it's unknown what Lemire currently believes, he has never publicly recanted nor disavowed the views he once expressed. VICE has yet again requested comment from Lemire but has yet to hear a response, the story will be updated if comment is provided.
If anyone has any information regarding far-right extremism in Canada I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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