HALIFAX (Canadian OH&S News)
A group of black firefighters in Halifax received a public apology from the fire chief for instances of racism throughout the department.
The issue of racism amongst the central Nova Scotia-based firefighters has been prevalent for more than five years. The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission first heard complaints of racism and discrimination in the fire department in 2008, from the Halifax Association of Black Firefighters (HABFF). In 2011, the human rights complaints were forwarded to a public board of inquiry, however both the HABFF and the fire department agreed to a resolution.
The official apology, which was delivered by Chief Doug Trussler on April 25, was the first step toward the resolution of what he called a “disappointing” and “painful” chapter in the fire department’s history.
“On behalf of Halifax Regional Municipality and Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency, I apologize to any black firefighters who experienced racism within the fire service,” Trussler said. “As an employer, we should have done more to prepare the work environment to be inclusive and protect you as employees and as people. We also fell short in our duty to prepare the training environment for the inclusion and acceptance of a designated class of recruits. For that, I am also sorry.”
In addition to making amends, the fire chief also launched a restorative plan that will help to combat racism. That includes giving public recognition to black firefighters, as well as acknowledging the contribution of blacks, women and First Nations. The municipality has also agreed to review their corporate policies, provide appropriate training for their directors in terms of diversity, inclusion, workplace rights and conflict resolution, among others.
“The action plan we’ve created gives those most intimately affected a say in what in what is needed for change and healing,” Jermaine Mombourquette, the acting president of the HABFF, said in a statement. “Crafted by members of the fire service, it’s a vision that reflects a commitment to diversity and inclusion within the municipality.”
The president of the local chapter of the Halifax Professional Firefighters union said the resolution is able to provide closure.
“Our organization has dealt with contentious issues over the years, and it is nice to see this one come to a final conclusion,” Paul Boyle explained in a press release.
“Firefighters should have each other’s backs. We are one service, united to serve the safety of the public and to protect each other,” Trussler said during his apology. “Harsh words and racist comments cut deeply, leaving lasting marks on the soul of those who have endured them. As the employer, we owe everyone who works for Halifax Regional Municipality and Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency a workplace that is free from language and behaviours designed to wound, belittle or discriminate.”