A judge has ruled a Hamilton, Ont. lawyer was acting in the public interest when he revealed the former leader of a white supremacist group was working in the city’s computer department.
The ruling this week by Justice Liza Sheard of Superior Court, struck down a $550,000 defamation suit by Marc Lemire, a former leader of the racist and antisemitic Heritage Front.
Lemire sued Craig Burley alleging his complaints to city managers about Lemire’s past associations resulted in him losing his IT job, made it hard for him to find new employment, exposed him to public ridicule and caused him to fear for the safety of his family.
In addition to money for damages, he also sought orders requiring Burley and internet service providers to remove all posts and tweets about him. He also wanted a ban on any new comments without his prior consent.
Lemire claimed he was never a leader of the Heritage Front, that he had disavowed the group and his involvement dated back to when he was a teenager.
In a countersuit, however, Burley said Lemire’s claims were nothing more than an effort to erase his racist past and to silence legitimate comment about a matter of public interest.
He also said he was motivated by concern the city had hired someone with Lemire’s past for a position giving him access to sensitive information.
In her 30-page ruling Sheard found Burley’s “expressions were not motivated by malice, spite or ill will, or by any purpose ulterior to his desire to hold the City accountable for its hiring of a person with publicized associations with organizations and persons whose views and ideologies appeared to conflict with the City’s stated ethics and principles.”
The judge also found “an abundance of evidence” connecting Lemire to racist, anti-immigrant and homophobic websites and organizations.
Those connections included links to the Heritage Front, which Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel once called “the most powerful racist gang to hit Canada since the real Nazis back in the dirty thirties,” and to white supremacists Paul Fromm and Wolfgang Droege.
Lemire’s name, the judge wrote, also appeared in previous court decisions concerning Zundel as the “last known leader” of the Heritage Front. She also found that, based on evidence in the motion heard in camera that Zundel was “in close association” with Lemire and was “well aware” of his efforts to develop hate sites on the internet.
The Heritage Front collapsed in 2005.
Lemire started working for the city of Hamilton in 2005. His racist past was exposed in 2018 after Burley approached a city councillor and asked if she knew a “prominent Canadian hate propagandist” was working for the city. He later met with the city’s head of human resources, but never received a reply to his concerns.
That all changed in 2019 when Vice News published a story about the situation. Lemire was placed on paid leave in May of that year while city managers hired outside consultants to study whether he had abused information available to him while on the city payroll.
The studies concluded there was no evidence of such abuse, but in August the city announced it and Lemire “mutually agree to end his employment” because his outside activities “did not reflect the culture, values and beliefs of the city.”
City managers would not say if Lemire was fired or resigned or if he received a settlement. In her judgement, Sheard notes Lemire alleged in his initial statement of claim he was dismissed by the city. In later court documents and testimony cited by the judge, however, she found he only suffered financial loss after January 2020.
Sheard ruled Burley is entitled to costs in the case.