Municipal election candidates are entitled to get access to the names and addresses of voters as defined under Ontario law, raising some concerns when it comes to a self-described white nationalist who's running for Hamilton mayor this fall.
Paul Fromm, who has run many times for political office at different levels, is among nine mayoral candidates looking to replace Fred Eisenberger, who chose not to seek re-election in the Oct. 24 municipal vote.
The City of Hamilton confirmed to CBC that municipal candidates were given access to the list of voters as of Sept. 1.
Fromm has advocated for whites-only immigration and marched with Nazis.
His latest attempt to become Hamilton mayor — he also ran in 2018 — has drawn concern from anti-hate activist Bernie Farber and others.
Farber, chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, reacted to Fromm getting voters' names and addresses by saying, "What can be done with that is a little frightening."
But in an email to CBC Hamilton, Fromm said any concerns about him having voter information are unfounded, adding that "the implications are both scaremongering and defamatory."
"I have run in elections, municipal, federal and provincial, in both Ontario and Alberta [once], and have had access to voters lists. I have never used them other than for legitimate election purposes.
"I hope this election will be about freedom and the way many politicians have abused and restricted ours during COVID."
There is a level of concern because [Fromm] doesn't believe everyone should be treated equally … This is real life, there are real consequences. - Lyndon George, executive director, Hamilton Anti-Racism Resource Centre
Farber, however, said releasing people's home addresses, in an era when information can be shared easily online, puts individuals who work in the public domain or who say or do things that "racists and bigots don't like" at risk.
"If a bad guy wanted to find out where the good guys lived, all they have to do is run for office," Farber told CBC Hamilton in late August, calling Fromm "the great-grandfather of the neo-Nazi movement in this country."
Evan Balgord, executive director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, said while Farber and his organization aren't alleging that Fromm has or will do anything illegal with the data, the bottom line is they don't trust him.
"You can't trust a word a Nazi says and he's been an open one for decades," Balgord said.
Farber, former chief executive officer of the Canadian Jewish Congress, has been the target of numerous threats and a 1994 neo-Nazi plot against his life. (Around that time, Farber says, the Heritage Front was planning to come to his workplace — he believes it's because they didn't know where he lived.)
Anti-racism centre also expresses concern
In a statement to CBC, local organization Hamilton Anti-Racism Resource Centre (HARRC) said it shared Farber's concerns.
"As an organization that offers support services to individuals who encounter racism and hate in Hamilton, allowing Paul Fromm ... access to the voters list is a real concern in Hamilton," said HARRC executive director Lyndon George.
George said Fromm's history of not recognizing how hurtful his views are to many members of the community means it is difficult to trust him with something that can make residents feel vulnerable, such as having their personal information.
"Fromm has made hate his life work… From anti-Semitic to anti-immigrant statements, he has a long and well-known list of hate associated with his name. Allowing him access to a voters list that includes addresses and names of residents is something we clearly do not support … There is a level of concern because he doesn't believe everyone should be treated equally … His words have often been the things that individuals turn to to validate their sense of hate. This is real life, there are real consequences."
Fromm's history with far-right organizations
Fromm, who moved to Hamilton from Mississauga in 2018, has a long history with white supremacist groups and causes. He runs several far-right organizations, including:
The Canadian Association for Free Expression, which has campaigned in support of Holocaust deniers.
Citizens for Foreign Aid Reform, which opposes foreign aid.
The Canada First Immigration Reform Committee, which opposes immigration, particularly by people who are not of European descent.
Fromm was dismissed from his teaching job at the Peel Region School Board in 1993 because of his political activities.
In revoking his teaching licence in 2007, the Ontario College of Teachers cited Fromm's attendance at a birthday celebration for Adolf Hitler in 1991 and him sharing a stage with Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke in 1994 as among the reasons.
Hamilton could have a better system, Farber says
Farber said he's removed himself from the voters list to protect his family from potential threats from any candidate or party.
He said the Canadian Anti-Hate Network has made its concerns clear at the federal level. The organization has also taken issue with candidates and parties at various levels, such as the People's Party of Canada, and its access to voter information.
Farber also suggested that Fromm's repeated candidacy in Hamilton could have motivated the city to come up with an alternate system to releasing voter information.
"Hamilton could lead and could come up with a resourceful idea to keep the information personal," he said, shortly before the list was made available to candidates.
The City of Hamilton confirmed that, under Ontario's Municipal Elections Act, it must provide voter information to anyone certified as a candidate.
Candidates must submit an oath promising to use the package for election purposes only and not post it online or sell it, explained Aine Leadbetter, manager of elections, print and mail.
Enforcement of the act is done through the courts.
When asked why Fromm should have access to the names and addresses of voters in Hamilton, given his far-right ties and activities, city communications officer Michelle Shantz said "all certified candidates are entitled, under the Municipal Elections Act (MEA), to request and receive a copy of the voters list."
The issue of giving voter lists to candidates with controversial pasts was raised in recent years in Calgary when concerns surfaced over mayoral candidate Kevin J. Johnston, who was facing assault and hate-crime charges in Ontario and B.C.
CBC News reported in 2021 that as a result of allegations surrounding Johnston, the City of Calgary was working with its legal team regarding legislation that requires a list of voters be provided to mayoral candidates.
Elections Calgary eventually decided to run the October 2021 civic election without a voter list, according to the Calgary Herald. At the time, the Canadian Anti-Hate Network said while Calgary wouldn't be giving the municipal candidates the names and addresses of voters, "the issue with elector lists is a Canada-wide problem."
George, of HARRC, said Calgary made a "bold decision" on the issue and urged Hamilton policymakers to do the same.
"Standing up to hate takes leadership at all levels of government. The question is will our current and future elected municipal leaders take steps to prevent known neo-Nazis like Paul Fromm from accessing the voters list?" he asked.
Political scientist Peter Graefe told CBC Hamilton the list can be beneficial to candidates who are able to tap into voter information from past elections and be strategic in their campaign planning.
"With both name and address, campaigns can be more confident in lining up data collected in past campaigns (including campaigns at other levels of government) with the voters list in the current campaign," he said.
Fromm is running against Bob Bratina, Andrea Horwath, Keanin Loomis, Ejaz Butt, Jim Davis, Solomon Ikhuiwu, Michael Pattison and Hermiz Ishaya.
While the Canadian Anti-Hate Network didn't take specific issue with any other candidate in Hamilton, it told CBC it doesn't think "anybody should be given voters lists, given the privacy and safety issues."
'Take a stand against hate at the ballot box'
Howard Eisenberg, president of the Hamilton Jewish Federation, raised concerns of his own over who's able to get voters lists.
"It is troubling that personal information from the voter registry could find its way into the hands of self-declared white nationalists," Eisenberg wrote in a statement. "This is something that would be concerning not just to the Jewish community but to other minorities as well.
"Hamiltonians should take a stand against hate at the ballot box and send a clear and unequivocal message that there is no place for hate at City Hall."
Hamilton-based Rabbi David Mivasair sees things differently. Mivasair is a political activist with Independent Jewish Voices, which has called out Israel's treatment of Palestinians and supported the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.
I assume that if anyone wants to find me or any other community activists, they can. - Hamilton Rabbi David Mivasair
He said although it's unpleasant to think about Fromm getting everyone's address, it doesn't really change much. Mivasair said a lot of personal information can easily be found online, and candidates often buy voter information that has such details included.
"I'm not particularly concerned that a racist gets access to publicly available information," he said. "I assume that if anyone wants to find me or any other community activists, they can. It's not hard to find virtually anyone. Any journalist, any political activist, any rabbi.
"I'm not saying Paul Fromm is an OK person or I am not worrying about him. But … that information [from the voters list] doesn't indicate a person's ethnic background or political orientation. He's not going to be able to go through that information to find out who the leftists are or who the racialized people are.
"If he wants to get Rabbi Mivasair doxxed, he can [already] do that."