Spa­niard’s Bay fire de­part­ment re­view finds lit­tle ev­i­dence of ha­rass­ment

Re­port’s author says fire­fight­ers in­ten­tions mis­un­der­stood in me­dia cover­age of mass res­ig­na­tions

The Compass - - News - BY AN­DREW ROBIN­SON ed­i­tor@cb­n­com­pass.ca

A re­view of ha­rass­ment, bul­ly­ing and in­tim­i­da­tion al­le­ga­tions lev­eled against the Spa­niard’s Bay Vol­un­teer Fire De­part­ment calls for changes to the way the town in­ter­acts with its fire­fight­ers.

The re­port from re­tired RCMP Sgt. Cliff Yet­man, re­leased on­line last Tues­day, iden­ti­fied lit­tle in the way of ev­i­dence to sup­port al­le­ga­tions pre­sented at a coun­cil meet­ing in Novem­ber of 2015 by coun­cil­lors Tony Do­minix and Brenda Sey­mour, the lat­ter of whom is also a fire­fighter.

At the end of his con­clu­sion to the 112-page re­port, Yet­man writes, “both for­mer and cur­rent mem­bers of the Fire De­part­ment are left to won­der what, if any­thing, they did to war­rant the scathing level of crit­i­cism lev­eled against them. The an­swer, quite frankly, is noth­ing.”

At the Nov. 16, 2015 coun­cil meet­ing, Sey­mour read from a list of griev­ances con­cern­ing the de­part­ment un­der the lead­er­ship of Vic­tor His­cock, the for­mer chief who re­signed the fol­low­ing Jan­uary to sup­port the res­ig­na­tion of their coun­cil li­ai­son, Sheri Collins.

Sey­mour claimed town prop­erty was mis­man­aged and that the de­part­ment failed to com­ply with gov­ern­ment leg­is­la­tion, failed to en­force an or­der from coun­cil, failed to pre­pare monthly reports for coun­cil and mis­man­aged per­son­nel. She also claimed to ex­pe­ri­ence sex­ual ha­rass­ment and ha­rass­ment in gen­eral while serv­ing un­der His­cock’s term as the chief. A mo- tion to sus­pend His­cock at that meet­ing was de­feated.

Yet­man in­ter­viewed 18 peo­ple in his re­view and also con­sulted me­dia reports, coun­cil min­utes and other doc­u­ments. Sey­mour did not par­tic­i­pate, telling CBC last month she had mis­giv­ings about se­lect­ing a for­mer po­lice of­fi­cer for the re­view in light of the RCMP’s own mis­han­dling of in­ter­nal ha­rass­ment com­plaints.

On the is­sue of ha­rass­ment, Yet­man found that while there were some heated dis­cus­sions and ag­gres­sive de­bates within the de­part­ment, “there is no ev­i­dence to sat­isfy a ‘course of vex­a­tious com­ment or con­duct’ di­rected to­wards any one in­di­vid­ual or in­di­vid­u­als within the De­part­ment.”

Heated dis­cus­sions

There were times when dis­cus­sions be­came dis­re­spect­ful and crossed the line, but he did not find ev­i­dence any­one was sin­gled out. He also found ev­i­dence to sug­gest Sey­mour did not shy away from such be­hav­iour.

“There is ev­i­dence of ris­ing ten­sions as fire­fight­ers un­suc­cess­fully sought an­swers as to why they were com­ing un­der such scru­tiny in Coun­cil, why Fire De­part­ment busi­ness was find­ing its way back to Coun­cil with­out be­ing brought through the Chain of Com­mand at the Fire De­part­ment, why is­sues which should have come to them through of­fi­cial chan­nels were com­ing to them from var­i­ous sources both within and out­side the com­mu­nity, and, most dis­turb­ing of all, why there was clearly an ac­tive cam­paign to re­move their Fire Chief.

“Spe­cific to (fire­fighter) Sey­mour’s al­le­ga­tions, there is no ev­i­dence in her re­la­tion­ship to her col­leagues to sug­gest that she ever felt as be­ing any­thing other than equal, and there is no ev­i­dence to sug­gest that in their be­hav­iour to­wards her, other fire­fight­ers treated her other than as an equal.”

On the is­sue of sex­ual ha­rass­ment, Yet­man con­cluded two doc­u­mented in­ci­dents in five years “falls far short of a ‘pat­tern of be­hav­iour’ as me­dia com­ment would have us be­lieve, sim­i­larly fall­ing short of be­ing a sys­temic is­sue within the De­part­ment.”

Yet­man noted too af­ter Sey­mour brought to His­cock’s at­ten­tion her con­cerns about the screen­ing of a short porno­graphic clip by a fire­fight­ing trainer from another bri­gade, it was “ad­dressed promptly, her view was re­spected, she was is­sued and ac­cepted an apol­ogy, and there was no in­di­ca­tion other than that the mat­ter had been ap­pro­pri­ately re­solved.”

On bul­ly­ing and in­tim­i­da­tion, Yet­man found no ev­i­dence. He said if de­bate at a fire­fighter meet­ing crossed the line, His­cock was known to halt pro­ceed­ings and get things back on track.

Yet­man also crit­i­cized me­dia cover­age of the fire­fight­ers’ res­ig­na­tions, stat­ing “false as­sump­tions” were made that the al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual ha­rass­ment served as “the im­pe­tus for the res­ig­na­tions, with the re­sult­ing firestorm of me­dia, both main­stream and so­cial, and all the ac­com­pa­ny­ing opin­ion and vit­riol ex­pressed.”

Rec­om­men­da­tions

As for what to do next, Yet­man com­pli­mented the cur­rent bri­gade for adopt­ing a pol­icy man­ual that ad­dresses ethics, ha­rass­ment and dis­ci­pline. He does how­ever see a need for fur­ther ac­tion.

Yet­man calls for the re­turn of a mem­ber of coun­cil to act as a li­ai­son to keep the lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion open. He said this per­son should be “the only voice on Coun­cil au­tho­rized to speak to Fire De­part­ment busi­ness.” Coun. Eric Jewer gave a no­tice of mo­tion to do just that dur­ing Mon­day’s pub­lic meet­ing, where coun­cil for­mally ac­cepted the re­port.

Yet­man also sug­gests coun­cil meet with cur­rent and for­mer fire­fight­ers af­fected by last year’s events.

“There is still a sig­nif­i­cant deal of hurt in this great com­mu­nity; in­di­vid­u­als who, quite frankly, did noth­ing to de­serve the scorn and ridicule heaped on them in the wake of … ‘Re­peated al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual ha­rass­ment and ha­rass­ment in gen­eral,’” he wrote. “Many of them de­sire noth­ing more than the recog­ni­tion that they are not the peo­ple they have been por­trayed to be. Many of them ex­pressed the opin­ion that this whole de­ba­cle could have been avoided if some­one had sim­ply talked to them and lis­tened se­ri­ously to what they had to say.

“So that is my rec­om­men­da­tion. Meet with them on their terms, ei­ther as a group or in­di­vid­u­ally, or both. Find out where they are now, fully a year later. As­cer­tain from them what would be­gin the heal­ing process in their minds. It may be that noth­ing can mit­i­gate the in­jus­tice at this point, but at least af­ford them the op­por­tu­nity to say ‘thanks but no thanks,’ or any other com­ment of clo­sure that they may wish to make.”

The third and fi­nal rec­om­men­da­tion states any fire­fighter with a com­plaint re­gard­ing the de­part­ment ad­dress it in writ­ing to the chief. If the mat­ter be­comes an is­sue re­quir­ing coun­cil’s at­ten­tion, coun­cil’s li­ai­son to the de­part­ment will han­dle that busi­ness in a priv­i­leged meet­ing and never a pub­lic one.

The full re­port can be ac­cessed via the Town of Spa­niard’s Bay web­site.

TC ME­DIA FILE PHOTO

Mem­bers of the Spa­niard’s Bay Vol­un­teer Fire De­part­ment as they cel­e­brated the lo­cal bri­gade’s 40th an­niver­sary in 2014.

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