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Winnipeg firefighter files $600K defamation suit over accusations of racial bias

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A Winnipeg firefighter accused of failing to help an Indigenous woman in serious distress because of racial bias has filed a defamation suit against the paramedic he claims levelled the allegations – Aug 19, 2021

A Winnipeg firefighter accused of failing to help an Indigenous woman in serious distress because of racial bias has filed a defamation suit against the paramedic he claims levelled the allegations.

In a statement of claim filed Aug. 9, firefighter Kelcey French alleges paramedic Nishanth Jayaranjan made defamatory statements “as a way of conducting character assassination against French.”

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

The suit is asking that Jayaranjan pay French a total of $600,000 in damages and calls on the paramedic to erase “all defamatory words or images” from social media accounts.

The allegations stem from a third-party report leaked to media in February that found the racial bias of French and other Winnipeg firefighters prevented them from helping an Indigenous woman in serious distress during an early morning emergency call on Oct. 20, 2020.

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The investigation, done by Laurelle Harris of Equitable Solutions Consulting and subsequently obtained by Global News, found the firefighters failed to help after repeated requests from a local paramedic at the scene, who is identified as Jayaranjan in the lawsuit.

The probe found the firefighter’s actions delayed medical care and transportation of the 23-year-old woman, who had stabbed herself in the throat. The report says the situation was fuelled not only by an “implicit racial bias” toward the patient, but also toward the paramedic, who is also a person of colour.

The report said the paramedic had previously reported “racist social media posts” made to a private Facebook group by firefighters to HR earlier that year.

Harris found the firefighter’s “failure to voluntarily take steps to assist the Complainant until he was ordered to do so … (was) the result of personal animus arising from the Respondent’s knowledge of the Complainant’s previous complaints of racism.”

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“The Respondent’s conduct in its totality, including his failure to assist the Complainant upon arrival at HSC (was), minimally, retaliatory.”

According to the report, the paramedic told investigators he had to ask the firefighters three times to hop in the back of the ambulance to ride to Health Sciences Centre to assist, despite being the senior health care official on scene and therefore in charge.

This led to a two-minute delay in taking the woman to HSC, according to video evidence detailed in the report.

Statement of claim

French’s statement of claim lays out a different course of events from the call.

It says firefighters arrived at the scene before paramedics and French was the first responder other than police to attend to the patient. The woman was alert and responsive and French’s initial assessment was that the wound was not actively bleeding, according to the statement of claim.

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“The patient was able to stand up on their own and walk to the stretcher following which the ambulance paramedics wheeled them to the ambulance for the purpose of taking the patient to a hospital,” the claim reads.

Read more: Winnipeg fire chief defends members accused of ‘racial bias,’ condemns source of leaked report

The statement alleges Jayaranjan was “immediately hostile and aggressive” toward French when French joined him and the patient in the ambulance.

“He insulted French with profanity and slurs in front of the patient and Jayaranjan’s paramedic partner,” reads the statement of claim, which goes on to allege Jayaranjan deliberately falsified a patient care report to make it appear as if care was not promptly provided to the victim.

Both French and Jayaranjan subsequently filed respectful workplace against each other, according to the statement of claim.

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The statement of claim says Jayaranjan also sent an email to Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service, copying 10 others including city and union representatives the following day.

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The claim alleges the email contained “several false and defamatory statements about French” including that French’s refusal to help Jayaranjan was racially motivated and that French’s statements “had a racist undertone and meaning.”

The claim also alleges Jayaranjan leaked the email to a reporter at the Winnipeg Free Press in an effort to “continue the harassment campaign he himself had started in the ambulance.”

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The claim goes on to allege Jayaranjan used an anonymous Reddit account to falsely accuse French of going to his house to harass him and also breaking into his parent’s home.

According to the statement of claim, Jayaranjan filed a “false police report” about the alleged incidents at his and his parents’ homes.

“The police complaint was dismissed after the police learned that at the time Jayaranjan alleged that French was at his home, he was at work,” the claim reads.

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“Nevertheless, the damage caused by the Reddit Defamatory Statements and the False Police Report were significant. For instance, representatives of Jayaranjan’s union requested French be terminated from his employment.”

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None of the allegations made in the statement of claim have been proven in court, and while a statement of defence has yet to be filed, Jayaranjan’s lawyer, Derek Olson tells Global News one “will be filed in due course.”

Read more: Firefighters union demands Winnipeg mayor release video in ‘racial bias’ incident

“Our client strongly disputes the allegations made in the statement of claim, and it is his intention to vigorously defend the claim,” Olson said in an emailed statement.

Lawyers representing French declined to comment while the lawsuit while it remains pending before the court.

— with files from Elisha Dacey

 

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