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Investigation into racism in Calgary Fire Department to conclude ‘soonish’: mayor

A file photo of a Calgary Fire Department fire truck. Getty Images

The City of Calgary has hired an independent investigator to look into allegations of racism in the Calgary Fire Department following the city’s anti-racism public hearings in July 2020. The investigation began in the fall of 2020, according to city officials.

Tuesday evening, senior officials with the city responded to a CBC report alleging BIPOC firefighters were subjected to racism on the job, calling it a “toxic work environment.”

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Ward 3 Coun. Jyoti Gondek told Danielle Smith that the allegations of racist actions and words disgusted her.

“Particularly disturbing is — because it’s such a horrific visual — hanging a stuffed animal from a noose,” Gondek said on Global News Radio 770 CHQR.

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“I cannot believe that somebody actually thought that was funny or cool or whatever went through their mind when they did that. It’s disgusting.”

Both city manager David Duckworth and community services GM Katie Black acknowledged the reporting and said all allegations are taken “very seriously” and investigated, but would not discuss specifics revealed in the CBC report.

“The Calgary Fire Department recognizes work is needed and it’s working through a solid respect and inclusion work plan and making a number of strides in key areas,” Black told city council.

Those key areas include respect in workplace training, developing a safe disclosure office, and the continued review of programs and policies to make the fire department more equitable, inclusive and anti-racist.

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“In addition to the diversity and inclusion work that’s currently underway, there is also a working group that meets regularly on strategies to advance diversity and inclusion work within the Calgary Fire Department, as well as to monitor and receive updates and confidential investigations,” Black said.

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“That group is comprised of the city manager, myself — the general manager of community services — the city solicitor, a second lawyer specializing in labour law, the manager of labour relations, members of the respectful workplace office, and an HR leader from business advisory services.”

Black said she regularly meets with CFD Chief Steve Dongworth, adding “we recognize change doesn’t happen overnight.”

The general manager, whose division includes the CFD, said she expects a confidential report that she will review and act upon.

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The mayor said a report on the investigation’s findings will be completed “soonish.”

“I don’t have a lot of visibility into that, and I did ask… because my understanding was that it had been done, but I didn’t have that confirmed,” Mayor Naheed Nenshi said Tuesday.

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“(The investigation) is underway and I think it’s wrapping up quite quickly here.”

Nenshi said he was unsure if the investigator’s report will enter public domain, but said he thinks it “needs to be” in the public to follow the spirit of the July 2020 anti-racism public hearings.

Matt Osborne of the Calgary Firefighters Association tweeted that the reporting “is being talked about” but said they had not received a letter from BIPOC members to CFD Chief Steve Dongworth outlining their concerns.

“While the CFA did not receive the letter mentioned in the reporting, our board is following up with the CFD and the city regarding the nine changes,” Osborne wrote. “They are exceedingly reasonable.”

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Gondek called the CFD allegations an example of systemic racism and an institution that “needs to change the way (its) people act.”

“Systemic racism is so embedded within our institutions and organizations,” the Ward 3 councillor said.

“It’s this process of not saying anything when you hear a racist remark. It’s not having a complaints office to go to. It’s just accepting that these things happen and not trying to change it so it doesn’t happen.”

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