I wanted to apol­o­gize: chief

Tes­ti­mony dif­fers from 2016 state­ment af­ter paramedics filed griev­ance

Winnipeg Free Press - - NEWS - ALDO SANTIN aldo.santin@freep­ress.mb.ca

HE head of the Win­nipeg Fire Para­medic Ser­vice of­fered on Thurs­day a startlingly dif­fer­ent rec­ol­lec­tion of his re­ac­tion to a re­spect­ful work­place com­plaint, com­pared to what he told an ex­ter­nal hu­man re­sources in­ves­ti­ga­tor in the spring of 2016.

Chief John Lane tes­ti­fied at an ar­bi­tra­tion hear­ing he was “hor­ri­fied” to learn 156 EMS paramedics filed a com­plaint af­ter a pre­sen­ta­tion he had made at a fire­fight­ers con­fer­ence in Au­gust 2015, and that his im­me­di­ate in­ten­tion was to apol­o­gize to them.

“When I saw the com­plaint, I was hor­ri­fied,” Lane told ar­bi­tra­tor Arne Peltz, adding he told the hu­man re­sources of­fi­cer it was his in­ten­tion to “apol­o­gize as quickly as pos­si­ble.”

Lane said he was pre­vented from apol­o­giz­ing be­cause of the com­plaint process and he felt he had to al­low it to take its course.

How­ever, the re­port of Pamela Clark — who had been hired by the City of Win­nipeg to in­ves­ti­gate the case — said Lane stren­u­ously dis­puted the paramedics’ com­plaints from the out­set. Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, Lane dis­missed them as an at­tempt by the lo­cal union ex­ec­u­tive to stir up the mem­ber­ship against him and un­der­mine ef­forts to pro­mote what he said was the suc­cesses

Tof an emer­gency med­i­cal ser­vices model that re­lies on tra­di­tional paramedics and fire­fight­ers trained as paramedics. “I con­sider the al­le­ga­tions to be con­trived and pro­mul­gated by the ex­ec­u­tives of MGEU Lo­cal 911,” Lane re­port­edly stated in his re­sponse to Clarke’s in­quiries.

“If my ac­tions have truly of­fended any­one, I will apol­o­gize to them un­re­servedly. How­ever, I be­lieve that at its core, this com­plaint is a cyn­i­cal and vex­a­tious use of the re­spect­ful work­place pol­icy.”

The hear­ing — which be­gan Wed­nes­day and is set to con­clude to­day — is deal­ing with a griev­ance filed in Septem­ber 2015 by the Man­i­toba Govern­ment and Gen­eral Em­ploy­ees’ Union (MGEU) Lo­cal 911 over Lane’s in­volve­ment in the prepa­ra­tion of an in­flam­ma­tory con­fer­ence sum­mary that crit­i­cized the paramedics, Lane’s re­ac­tion to the re­spect­ful work­place com­plaint filed by the paramedics and what the union says is the city’s fail­ure to act on the find­ings of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Lane was hired as chief of the WFPS in April 2014.

He had been chief of the Prince Ge­orge, B.C., fire depart­ment and had worked as a para­medic and am­bu­lance at­ten­dant for a pri­vate firm in the Hamilton area from 1981 to 1995.

The com­plaint was largely up­held by Clarke over a year ago, who con­cluded in a writ­ten re­port that Lane’s ac­tions had con­trib­uted to a work­place con­flict.

How­ever, Lane did not is­sue an apol­ogy to the paramedics for sev­eral months af­ter Clarke had sub­mit­ted her re­port.

Clarke was crit­i­cal of Lane’s par­tic­i­pa­tion at an in­ter­na­tional fire­fight­ers con­fer­ence in Au­gust 2015 in Mary­land, find­ing he should not have made his pre­sen­ta­tion.

MGEU lawyer Keith La­bossiere had told the hear­ing Win­nipeg city hall failed to take any ac­tion to ad­dress the paramedics’ work­place com­plaint and said Lane’s apol­ogy was too late, in­ad­e­quate and not cred­i­ble.

The MGEU wants Peltz to find city hall at fault and award dam­ages to the union, its ex­ec­u­tive and the paramedics who had signed the com­plaint.

The con­tra­dic­tion between Lane’s tes­ti­mony Thurs­day and his state­ments to Clarke in the spring of 2016 will likely be the fo­cus of cross-ex­am­i­na­tion to­day by MGEU coun­sel.

Also on Thurs­day, deputy fire chief Chris­tian Sch­midt said the city de­cided to hire Clarke in an at­tempt to “es­tab­lish the facts” of the paramedics’ re­spect­ful work­place com­plaint.

The af­ter­noon re­sump­tion of the hear­ing was de­layed by 90 min­utes as coun­sel for the union and city hall met sev­eral times, some­times with Peltz, in what some spec­u­lated was an un­suc­cess­ful at­tempt to re­solve the griev­ance be­fore Lane tes­ti­fied.

Lane tes­ti­fied he was on va­ca­tion for much of the time between when Clarke had sub­mit­ted her re­port to city hall in July 2016 and when he is­sued an apol­ogy in Novem­ber 2016, say­ing he didn’t have time to do it sooner.

He said his orig­i­nal in­ten­tion was to is­sue an apol­ogy to the paramedics in a video state­ment, to be dis­trib­uted to all mem­bers of the WFPS, but the pro­posal was re­jected by city hall’s cor­po­rate com­mu­ni­ca­tions depart­ment.

Lane said the apol­ogy ul­ti­mately is­sued to the paramedics had been writ­ten en­tirely by him­self and was a sin­cere at­tempt to re­solve the dis­pute with them, adding how­ever he re­al­izes the apol­ogy alone won’t heal the rift.

“I don’t for a sec­ond be­lieve that a sim­ple worded state­ment is enough to heal the of­fence that had oc­curred,” Lane said.

“Is it enough to fully re­pair the dam­age done? No. Is it a full and forth­right apol­ogy, with­out con­di­tions? Yes. I made com­mit­ments in (the apol­ogy) to make ev­ery at­tempt in fu­ture to move for­ward in a col­lab­o­ra­tive fash­ion.”

TREVOR HA­GAN / WIN­NIPEG FREE PRESS

Chief John Lane, the sub­ject of a work­place com­plaint by 156 EMS paramedics in 2016, is tes­ti­fy­ing at an ar­bi­tra­tion hear­ing about how he han­dled the com­plaint.

RUTH BON­NEVILLE / WIN­NIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Robert Ta­man speaks to me­dia in 2013.

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