Andrew Dreschel: City of Hamilton places staffer linked to white supremacy on leave
External probe will track databases, computers and cellphone use
Marc Lemire, is seen in this undated file photo. Lemire, an information technology analyst, was exposed earlier this month as the alleged former head of the notorious but now defunct Heritage Front.
A City of Hamilton staffer under investigation for links to a white supremacist group has been placed on a leave of absence pending the outcome of the probe.
Marc Lemire, an information technology analyst, was exposed earlier this month as the alleged former head of the notorious but now defunct Heritage Front, igniting a firestorm of community outrage and concerns over his potential access to personal information.
City employees under investigation are placed on either a paid or unpaid leave of absence.
Because of privacy rules, at this point the city can’t specify whether Lemire is being paid or not. Choosing her words carefully, city manager Janette Smith would only say he’s “not at work while the investigation is going on.”
Andrew Dreschel: Baptism by fire for Hamilton’s new city manager
Hamilton City hall IT staffer posted hateful views years after neo-Nazi activity
UPDATE: New city manager Janette Smith promises probe into former neo-Nazi working as IT analyst
Smith doesn’t know how long the probe will take, but she expects it to be completed sooner rather than later.
“We’re looking at weeks, not months. I don’t want this to drag on for everyone involved.”
According to Smith, the city has hired two external firms to conduct the investigation. She declined to reveal their names — she believes one contract has yet to be signed.
“What I will say, though, is the report will come directly to me.”
Smith says it was decided to hire two firms in order to be “thorough.” The companies are looking at, among other things, what data Lemire may have had access to.
According to city human resources director Lora Fontana, in a case like this, experts would also research web-based information from publicly available sources and use advanced search techniques to locate information on social media, deep web databases, people and record sites as well as forensic imaging of computers and cellphones.
Lemire, who’s believed to be in his early 40s, has been linked in the past to racist and homophobic views, as well as controversial figures such as Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel, neo-Nazi Wolfgang Droege and white nationalist Paul Fromm, who ran for mayor of Hamilton last year.
The controversy over his employment erupted May 8 thanks to an article by Vice News. Lemire responded to local media inquiries by denying he’s a neo-Nazi or white supremacist, or that he was ever president of the Heritage Front. He claimed his connection to the Heritage Front dates back to his teens, insisted he rejected the group many years ago and asserted his professional integrity.
Some critics, however, allege he still publicizes extremist views on a website he maintains. Presumably the investigation will establish the facts of the matter.
The investigation hinges on whether Lemire — who was hired around 2004 — contravened the employee code of conduct or other policies governing staff behaviour. In other words, whether he has promoted views that could damage the reputation of the city.
Penalties for infractions cover a range of options, including unpaid suspensions to termination with cause.
“I know from my experience in leadership, you have to look at every situation uniquely and determine what’s the best course of action,” said Smith.
Angry citizens have criticized senior staffers for hiring Lemire in the first place and for failing to respond to concerns brought to their attention last fall.
It’s not clear if Lemire disclosed his connections with the Heritage Front at the time of his hiring or if management took any precautionary steps over previously raised concerns.
Smith didn’t directly answer a question about whether the investigation encompasses staff’s handling of the matter. She noted, however, that hiring is now a “different world” than it used to be, and she’ll look at whether changes need to be made.
As a non-unionized employee, Lemire could simply be fired without cause and sent packing with a healthy severance. But to her credit, Smith not only appears to be doing her best to get to the bottom of it all, she’s also striving to be fair to all concerned, including Lemire.