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Mayor decries ‘lack of communication’ by Winnipeg firefighters union around racism

Click to play video: 'Mayor decries ‘lack of communication’ by Winnipeg firefighters union around racism' Mayor decries ‘lack of communication’ by Winnipeg firefighters union around racism
Mayor Brian Bowman released a statement to the media Friday decrying a “lack of public communication” by the firefighters’ union on systemic racism. Marney Blunt reports – Feb 5, 2021

Mayor Brian Bowman released a statement to the media Friday decrying a “lack of public communication” by the firefighters’ union on systemic racism.

The statement comes after a report, obtained by Global News, accused firefighters of “implicit bias” and racist attitudes after firefighters at the scene of a self-inflicted stab wound by an Indigenous woman initially refused to provide help.

Read more: Winnipeg firefighters’ ‘racial bias’ prevented help for Indigenous patient: report

The paramedic in charge of the scene, also a person of colour, said they had to ask firefighters three times to help before one was ordered to do so by a separate firefighter.

Once in the ambulance, said the report, the firefighter refused to hold the woman’s bandage on her neck, forcing the patient to hold it herself while the paramedic had their hands full.

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Bowman and Fire Chief John Lane held a press conference Wednesday about the report.

The firefighters in the report were placed on administrative leave Thursday, according to the Winnipeg Free Press.

Click to play video: 'Winnipeg firefighters’ ‘racial bias’ prevented help for Indigenous patient: report' Winnipeg firefighters’ ‘racial bias’ prevented help for Indigenous patient: report
Winnipeg firefighters’ ‘racial bias’ prevented help for Indigenous patient: report – Feb 3, 2021

Read the mayor’s statement in full below:

“Earlier today, I wrote to the longstanding president of the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg (UFFW), Alex Forrest, to express my concern regarding the lack of public communication from the UFFW regarding issues of systemic racism in the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service (WFPS) and the UFFW.

“Combating racism, in all of its forms, requires a commitment to change by our community and, in particular, by our community leaders. The City of Winnipeg, including Council, have taken steps over the past several years to better addressing its role in becoming a city without racism.

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“In the last week, I have held press conferences alongside our Interim Chief Administrative Officer, Mike Ruta and WFPS Chief John Lane regarding the findings by an independent investigator that the City retained to address issues of racism within the WFPS. In both of those press conferences, we publicly acknowledged the existence of systemic racism and the ongoing efforts underway to address it.

“I have asked Mr. Forrest, as President of the UFFW, to join the City of Winnipeg in its public efforts and speak out today to acknowledge the existence of systemic racism within the UFFW and to demonstrate what measures the UFFW has taken to date to address such issues.

“In our city, our community has expectations for emergency services and the level of service that is provided to each person who lives here. That level of expectation has been challenged and we need, as leaders, to be accountable and work together to fix this.“

Read more: Human rights panel orders Winnipeg landlord to pay tenant for racist, sexist remarks

At the press conference, when asked if the firefighters should be fired, Bowman said while he has “strong feelings” about the report, he needs to respect the collective agreement and the process.

He did say, however, he wants to see “swift discipline” occur within union rules.

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“Employees are afforded due process.”

UFFW president Alex Forrest released a statement Friday afternoon saying he would not be talking about the matter at this time.

“We will be defending our members to the fullest extent possible and we believe that our members will be vindicated,” he said.

“In regards to the issue of racism, whether it is overt or innate, this is a very serious issue … this union was working for years to ensure that there was no discrimination or prejudice operating within the fire paramedic service.”

Bowman said later he was glad to see Forrest respond publicly.

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