Calgary skyline and Scotiabank Saddledome
26 Jan 2021

Calgary fire chief admits a sub culture of bullying, racism and fear exists in the department

CTIF News has previously reported on racism and sexism being a problem in many fire stations around the world. The Canadian city of Edmonton was one of the examples where firefighters of colour have spoken up lately. Recently the neighbouring city of Calgary has had to face reports revealing similar conditions of "hidden" prejudice and bullying behavior in the fire department.

Cover Photo (Above)  Calgary skyline and Scotiabank Saddledome. Wikipedia Commons License
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Screenshot from the Inequality article

CTIF News follows the working conditions of women firefighters, people of colour and LBGT, through the CTIF Commission for Women in the Fire Services.  If you have a story or issue relating to this topic you would like to discuss, please contact the Commission. 

Read more on CTIF.org: Inequality in the fire services still a hot topic around the world

The fire chief of Calgary recently addressed these issues publicly;  problems which he sees as difficult to discover and eliminate. The reasons are that other employees, according to the reports, tend to be afraid of reporting bullying when it happens, in fear that they themselves will be punished by the bullyers. The racist and bullying firefighters allegedly keep themselves hidden from management and it has, according to the Calgary fire chief, been difficult to prove who they are.

In a recent article from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), Calgary fire Chief "Steve Dongworth called reports of racism in his fire halls "concerning" and says problem employees are difficult to deal with because they're ´very clever´ and ´very subtle´ in how they operate". 

"We have a culture where people tend not to report things for fear of retaliation," he said in a telephone interview with CBC, Tuesday afternoon of last week.

"That becomes a barrier to us finding out who those laggards are."

But Dongworth said "there will be zero tolerance" when the problem employees are identified.

 

Bullying has allegedly lead to suicides among coloured staff

On Monday last week, CBC News published detailed accounts from seven current and former members of the Calgary Fire Department who said that although it's become somewhat better over the years, Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC) firefighters still experience  racism within the city's fire halls. 

Last summer, several current and retired BIPOC members sent a letter to the chief, where they demanded change in the department. The group claims that racialized bullying has led to suicides among members within the Calgary Fire Department.

"In interviews, several members, who CBC News agreed not to name because of fear of workplace retribution, said even to this day, the N-word is occasionally tossed around casually inside fire stations".

 

No women or persons of colour in leading roles

According to the CBC article, there are currently no women or ´Black, Indigenous and people of colour´ members serving as deputy chiefs in the Calgary Fire Department

Women and persons of colour account for less than three per cent of the 1,400 firefighters in Calgary. 

On Tuesday evening, the City of Calgary reaffirmed its commitment to anti-racism with a motion including wording specific to the Calgary Fire Department in light of CBC's story.

"With respect to concerns related to the Calgary Fire Department, direct administration to specifically include these issues in their continuing work on internal practices and movement toward cultural change," reads the motion.