The chief of the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service is condemning the source of a leaked report into a racially-charged incident last fall and doubling down in his defence of the members involved.
In an inter-office memo dated Thursday obtained by Global News, Chief John Lane slams confidentiality breaches that revealed the outcome of a third-party investigation that found the racial bias of firefighters prevented them from helping an Indigenous woman in serious distress during a call last October.
The report, which was leaked to local media in February, said firefighters resisted a request from a paramedic at the scene that they assist an Indigenous woman who had stabbed herself.
The report said the paramedic, a person of colour, had allegedly reported “racist social media posts” made to a private Facebook group by firefighters earlier that year and found the firefighters’ failure to help at the scene stemmed from “personal animus” against the paramedic over the complaint.
In Thursday’s memo, Lane stresses no explicit racism took place, and says racial animus towards a paramedic involved were unfounded.
“It is important to note that, as was stated in the investigation report from the outset, there was no explicit racism demonstrated towards the patient,” Lane writes, with an underline emphasizing the last nine words in his sentence.
“The possibility of racial animus towards the ambulance paramedic that was raised in the report was determined to be unfounded.”
Asked how this was “unfounded,” Lane offered this explanation Thursday evening: “This report indicated that racial animus among the crew members may have been a factor on this call. The details of this possibility could not be verified,” he said.
He added all members are now taking part in city-wide diversity training to address implicit racial bias.
“I, along with other City leaders just finished a training session yesterday and many of our frontline leadership have completed diversity, equity, and inclusion training as well. This will be ongoing.”
In the memo, the chief also takes aim at those who leaked the original report, telling members work is ongoing to determine the source or sources of the breach.
“Maintaining confidentiality is essential because it protects the integrity of the investigation and ensures that all employees can feel comfortable bringing forward concerns,” he writes.
“This was an egregious violation of the Respectful Workplace policy and it has caused harm to the very members that the policy is intended to protect, as well as to the reputation of our service.”
Lane concludes his memo by expressing his pride in all WFPS members and the service they provide.
The union representing paramedics in Winnipeg was quick to condemn the contents of the memo, saying it downplays and distorts the implications of the report.
“We must remember the seriousness of what the investigator found – that there was an attempt to collude and cover up the unnecessary delay in transporting a seriously injured Indigenous patient to hospital,” said Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union president Michelle Gawronsky.
“The Chief’s memo suggests once again that he is more concerned with determining how the investigator’s report became public than with addressing the failure to care for the patient in compliance with the medical authority on the scene.
“It seems more concerned with clearing the reputation of the department than with fixing the workplace culture within the WFPS.”
The incident began around 4 a.m. Oct. 20, when paramedics and police were called to the North End, where a 23-year-old woman had stabbed herself in the throat.
The head paramedic at the scene asked one of the four firefighters to hop in the back of the ambulance to ride to Health Sciences Centre to assist, according to the report.
The paramedic told investigators he had to ask three times, despite being the senior health-care official on scene and therefore in charge.
A firefighter did eventually climb into the back after being ordered to do so, but he wouldn’t help the patient.
The woman had to press on the dressings over her neck wound herself so the paramedic could do other medical treatment, the report said.
‘Outcomes’ reached for some members: Lane
Ultimately the report from Laurelle Harris of Equitable Solutions Consulting found firefighters’ resistance led to a two-minute delay in taking the woman to hospital.
At the time of the leak, Lane told the media the report made no recommendations for disciplinary measures because, he said, an implicit bias is a subconscious one.
“The recommended approach is department-wide education and training,” he said at the time. “We will be rolling out this mandatory training for all staff in the coming weeks.”
The fallout from the report appears to be continuing internally.
In Thursday’s memo, Lane says some employees involved in the incident and subsequent investigation have faced “outcomes” and others are yet to receive “outcomes.”
In the memo he declines to expand on what those outcomes are, citing confidentiality.
“We have treated the results of the October incident investigation with confidentiality,” Lane writes.
“Unfortunately, the release of the confidential report through different sources has brought unwanted attention to the matter.”
–With files from Will Reimer and Elisha Dacey