Retired firefighter sues Halifax fire services, alleging racial discrimination
By The Canadian Press
HALIFAX – A retired firefighter in Nova Scotia is suing Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency, saying he was ridiculed and passed over for a position because of his race.
Court documents show George Cromwell of Dartmouth, N.S., filed a notice of action on July 24, which included a statement of claim detailing numerous alleged incidents dating back to the late 1990s.
Cromwell said he was denied a position in his station’s rescue unit despite his qualifications because he is black.
After extracting a body from a fatal car wreck in the late 1990s, the statement of claim reads, his captain asked him to apply to a newly created rescue unit within the King Street Station in downtown Dartmouth, where he worked at the time.
He said the day after he applied, he checked in with a platoon chief, who said his application had been “shuffled aside.”
“I was the most decorated firefighter in HRM, the first firefighter qualified in Dartmouth to use the Jaws of Life, and yet I was treated with disrespect due to my race,” Cromwell wrote.
He was later forced to transfer to another station in Halifax, the documents said.
In another incident at the King Street Station, Cromwell wrote he returned from a vacation with a large moustache and was told by his captain that he could keep it as long as he was able to put his mask on properly to ensure safety.
Cromwell said the captain was satisfied that he could.
Over the next few weeks, he alleged he was “continuously harassed” and embarrassed in front of the crew by his superiors because of his moustache, noting that a white firefighter worked in another station with similar facial hair.
Cromwell also outlined instances where he believes his life and the lives of his coworkers were put at risk, alleging his superiors once sent them inside a burning building without adequate support.
He wrote he made numerous complaints to the city over the years.
“To this day, I still have not been provided with any evidence or documents to suggest that my concerns were investigated by the city,” read his statement of claim.
Cromwell is seeking $200,000 in lost earnings, saying he would likely still be working or at least earning a more substantial pension had he gotten the position he said he was wrongfully denied.
None of these allegations have been proven in court and Cromwell could not be reached for comment.
Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency spokesman Phil McNulty confirmed they received Cromwell’s notice of action last week.
In an interview Sunday, he said the issue has been forwarded to Halifax’s solicitors, the people who handle legal issues on behalf of the city.
“The fire service, at this stage of the game, is awaiting direction from legal services and we can’t comment on matters that are currently before the court,” he said. “All I can say is I worked with Mr. Cromwell for a number of years – over two decades – so I’m aware of him, and I’m aware of some of the concerns that he has.”
This isn’t the first time the city has been accused of discrimination. Last December, firefighter Liane Tessier recieved an official apology from Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency chief Ken Stuebing, after she said her concerns about systemic gender discrimination within the department were ignored by the municipality for over a decade.
Halifax bus mechanic Arthur Maddox was terminated a couple of months ago after a Nova Scotia Human Rights
Commission board of inquiry decision found his workplace behaviour to be “disrespectful, aggressive and racist.”
The complaint about racism at the transit yard was filed with the provincial human rights commission nearly 12 years ago, in July 2006.
And in May, a group of African Nova Scotian city employees demanded action on a confidential report from two years ago that found racism in the workplace.
At the time, Raymond Sheppard, a spokesman for the group, told reporters that “the anti-black racism and discrimination within HRM is at 1950s levels.”
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