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Calgary to include fire department racism allegations in city-wide review

The city will include specific racism accusations in a recent CBC news story as part of their overall organization review on diversity and inclusion.

The decision was made after a closed-door meeting at the tail end of this week’s Calgary city council meeting.

On Monday, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he was horrified to learn the charges of racism and abuse in the Calgary Fire Department, after a CBC News story published Monday.

The story by Meghan Grant documented years of abuse reported by BIPOC members of Calgary’s Fire Department.

In an afternoon scrum with media Monday, Mayor Nenshi said there are business unit reviews already underway as a part of the city’s acknowledgement of systemic racism last year.

The motion arising in council Tuesday spelled out that the allegations would be investigated as part of the review.

“While we can’t discuss specific allegations or instances referenced in the CBC article or the July anti-racism hearings, the Calgary Fire Department recognizes work is needed,” said Community Services GM Katie Black.

The CBC report showed that the city – or at least the fire department – was aware of the allegations several years ago. The mayor said that’s one of the things he’s looking into.

“I, too, am curious… what did we know and when did we know it and what did we do about it at that time,” said Mayor Nenshi.

“Those are the answers that I’m looking for as well.”

Calgary Fire Department Zero-based review – 2015

Of 2,647 Calgary fire department applicants as of Jan. 6, 2015, approximately 10 per cent identified as being part of a visible minority, according to a 2015 zero-based review (ZBR) of the Calgary Fire Department.

“Feedback from interviews indicated that workforce diversity is still a new concept within CFD that is not widely promoted or understood,” the review read.

The report goes on to say that firefighters were split not only in the efficacy of the diversity training, but also knowing that it even existed.

“In spite of this split, these responses do indicate that an aggressive training program needs to be implemented by the CFD to promote an understanding of what diversity and inclusion means to CFD and The City of Calgary,” the report said.

Prior to the ZBR, firefighters hadn’t been surveyed about diversity and inclusion, the report said.

In a survey of firefighters done during the review, a combined 52 per cent either somewhat disagreed (18 per cent) or strongly disagreed (34 per cent) that a diverse workforce should a priority for CFD.

The report noted that even those who did consider it a priority said it shouldn’t be done at the expense of recruit quality.

FULL REPORT (Diversity and inclusion in section 3.2)


‘…We need to continue to do more’

Matt Osborne, vice-president of the Calgary Firefighters Association, said he had the same emotion as many Calgarians upon reading the original CBC story.


“It just showed that we have firefighters who are going through a career of racism, who are facing hurt,” Osborne told LiveWire Calgary.

“A huge focus for me yesterday was just stopping and feeling for them. Then, I very quickly went into, ‘we need to continue to do more and we need to continue to do better.”

Osborne said that the 2015 ZBR was one step in identifying diversity concerns in the CFD. He said that report was a very important step.

“It’s reports like that, that help all of us to realize the areas we can grow in,” he said.

When asked if there’s been improvement, Osborne said as an active firefighter he believes they’ve made progress. There’s training, awareness, a push for diversity in the fire ranks.

“Do we have work to do? Yes. Is it better than it was? I would like to say yes,” Osborne said.

The Calgary Fire Department needs to apologize for those experiences, Osborne said. They don’t want to diminish the voices of firefighters who have experience racism on the job.

Osborne was on shift last night and he said the response from fellow firefighters was similar.

“We’re no different than anybody else in the public with the shock,” he said.

Workplace reviews

The CBC story did mention overall workplace reviews that were done at the City of Calgary, neither of which have been made public.

Mayor Nenshi did say that he doesn’t know what’s in those reports either. He said it’s not typical for council to get deeply involved in the city’s human resource issues.

He said he’d like to review them before deciding what could or should be made public.

“Normally it’s not that appropriate for me to get deeply engaged in human resources issues, but our conversation about moving towards anti-racism really has changed the rules a little bit, and we’re still adapting to what that looks like,” Mayor Nenshi said.

The mayor was asked about use of the N-word as an everyday occurrence at the Calgary Fire Department, as alleged in the CBC story.

“When I heard Meghan say that on the radio this morning, I think I nearly caused myself bodily injury because that was unspeakable,” he said.

“The fact that we’re hearing that is absolutely unacceptable.”

The mayor said this is exactly why the city was taking steps to become an anti-racist city.  It’s why the workplace reviews are underway.

It’s why the city held the systemic racism public hearings last year.

“We heard on that day, and in the open letter that we’ve seen, some very troubling allegations within one particular business unit, the Calgary Fire Department, but we have heard of other ones as well about some of these challenges,” Mayor Nenshi said.

“That is unacceptable. It’s unacceptable in today’s society, and it’s unacceptable in this organization.”