By Nicole Wong
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman asks that the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg (UFFW) acknowledge the existence of systemic racism within its ranks and to share their efforts to address it, amid calls from the Manitoba Metis Federation (MMF) for the resignation of four Winnipeg firefighters following a troubling incident last year.
The Mayor’s appeal and the MMF’s call comes from a recent report by Equitable Solutions, which suggested that four Winnipeg firefighters showed a lack of concern over an injured Indigenous woman in the city.
The report noted that while there was no explicit bias in the patient’s treatment, it did state the firefighters demonstrated some apathy for the patient’s physical and emotional well-being.
“I am urging the UFFW and frankly, other leaders throughout the community within the City of Winnipeg workforce to acknowledge that systemic racism exists because it needs to be said, and it needs to be said often,” said Bowman during a media availability on Friday.
“Dealing with systemic racism takes a lot of effort over a lot of time, and we have to remain honest enough to acknowledge that it is an ongoing process.”
Though the report primarily puts attention to the issues raised by a paramedic who faced harassment in the workplace, there was an additional layer of racial bias that was acknowledged and confirmed by the report.
According to Kristin Cuma, the Communications Officer for the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service (WFPS), this incident happened last October.
“The WFPS remains committed to providing education to all employees to ensure events like these do not happen again. We are also committed to ensuring that we follow the mandatory processes outlined in the provisions of our collective agreements,” she said.
“While the third-party investigation into the incident is complete, the required disciplinary process is ongoing. Appropriate action will be taken through those processes. All human resources activities related to individuals are confidential and specific details will not be provided.”
In a press release, UFFW President Alex Forrest said the union will not be making any statements presently until after all of the issues and information is addressed and the disciplinary meetings have concluded.
“We will respond at the appropriate time in a professional manner so that it does not prejudice the ability of our members to defend themselves from these accusations. We will be defending our members to the fullest extent possible, and we believe that our members will be vindicated,” said Forrest.
He added that the issue of racism is serious and therefore asks all Winnipeg citizens to not make any conclusions until all the facts are presented.
On Thursday, the MMF called for the resignation of the firefighters who showed a lack of care towards the injured Indigenous woman.
“We have the utmost respect for the work that firefighters and paramedics do, putting themselves in harm’s way and enduring the dangers of their job,” said David Chartrand, President of the MMF.
“But that respect has to work both ways. Individuals within the firefighting community cannot make decisions and judgements about who receives help and who doesn’t base on their appearance, social status, race or gender.”
Due to this bias, the MMF urges that immediate action to deal with the firefighters in question should be taken.
Nicole Wong is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.