Marc Lemire, the Hamilton employee with a history of ties to white supremacist groups, will not be returning to work for the city, according to two sources familiar with the investigation into his role with the IT Department.
City manager Janette Smith announced earlier this week the investigation is over, but said the “process” was still ongoing.
That process, according to sources, involves determining the nature and details of his departure — the city has determined Lemire won’t be coming back — now it’s a question of how the issue will be resolved.
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 at this point the negotiation is most likely 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.”
Lemire said in an email to CBC Hamilton that he’s not a white supremacist or neo-Nazi. There is no evidence of any wrongdoing in his work at the city.
He’s been on paid leave since May 8 after a Vice News report led to safety and privacy concerns being raised about his role in IT. Questions were also asked about how much the city knew of his past when it hired him.
The city called in two outside agencies to probe what information he’s accessed at the city and whether he’s 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.
Court documents also describe him 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.
Lemire did not answer questions about his employment status with the city when contacted by email this week.
Hamilton’s council is scheduled to meet Friday. It’s not clear if the results of the investigation or the ongoing process will be discussed at that time.
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.
“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 will be “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?”
The lawyer said that from Lemier’s perspective, she doesn’t see any reason why he’d resign without a payout of some sort.
“If he were to resign it would give him zero option to get any compensation.”
Outcome likely to be ‘highly confidential’
City officials have stayed tight-lipped about Lemire and the investigation since it began, with Smith citing concerns around employee confidentiality and a need for a thorough, respectful process.
Chaudhri said that silence is likely to continue, regardless of the outcome.
“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.”
But despite concerns about the potential for a wrongful-dismissal suit or the threat of human rights complaints, if Lemire refuses to resign, the city might not have a choice.
“I think it wold be really difficult for the city at this point to reintegrate an employee who has these kinds of historical ties,” said Chaudhri. “It would just seem as though the city was ignoring its own mandate to promote ideas of diversity and inclusion.”