Advertisement

Behind the bay doors: Leduc firefighters sue for harassment, assault

Click to play video: '‘Take a stand’: Leduc firefighter urges people to report workplace abuse after staying silent about allegations for decades'
‘Take a stand’: Leduc firefighter urges people to report workplace abuse after staying silent about allegations for decades
WATCH ABOVE: Christa Steele, a firefighter and paramedic for the City of Leduc, speaks about the sexual assault and harassment she alleges she and another employee have experienced in the two decades she's worked for the municipality south of Edmonton. The two are now suing the city, and while speaking to Global News she encouraged other people to report inappropriate behaviour instead of staying silent. – Mar 9, 2022

As a teenager, Christa Steele knew she wanted to become a first responder.

As part of a job shadow, she was able to perform CPR on a man who was in distress.

“That actually got me hooked on the career itself,” said Steele.

In 2002, she was hired by the City of Leduc, eventually becoming a paramedic and firefighter. But Steele said that dream quickly turned into a nightmare.

“Everything started almost right off the hop. The sexual assault. The sexual harassment,” she told Global News.

“I was touched. I was groped. I had things exposed to me for many years by co-workers and by my superiors.”

Steele said she reported some of that to her superiors but not all of it. She says she also never went to police out of fear of losing the career she loves so much.

Story continues below advertisement

“It becomes how your community recognizes you. It becomes how your children introduce you,” she explained through tears.

Christa Steele pictured in artwork done by DanSun Photo Art. Credit: DanSun Photo Art

Steele has been off work and on WCB since last summer after being diagnosed with PTSD as a result of the allegations.

That gave her time to reflect and now she and a co-worker have filed a lawsuit against the city.

In a statement of claim filed in Calgary, Steele details almost two decades of alleged abuse.

Click to play video: 'Behind the bay doors: City of Leduc firefighters sue for harassment, assault'
Behind the bay doors: City of Leduc firefighters sue for harassment, assault

According to the document, a colleague once asked Steele about “the colour of her panties” while they were sitting in an ambulance together.

Story continues below advertisement

It goes on to say the man then exposed his penis to Steele.

Breaking news from Canada and around the world sent to your email, as it happens.

Another colleague reportedly got into Steele’s bed while she was sleeping in the female dorms.

The claim alleges a different co-worker was designated to measure members for their uniforms.

“While taking her measurements, Male Firefighter #4 touched Ms. Steele’s breasts multiple times and her vagina one time,” the claim says.

It goes on to say that after that behaviour was reported to superiors, “female firefighters were questioned as to whether their choice of clothing contributed to the sexual assaults.”

Click to play video: 'Leduc firefighter says she endured sexual harassment to keep doing job she loved: ‘It becomes your whole life’'
Leduc firefighter says she endured sexual harassment to keep doing job she loved: ‘It becomes your whole life’

In 2018, the claim says Steele was cleaning the men’s bathroom at the fire station.

While cleaning one of the stalls, “Male Firefighter #4 approached her from behind and mimicked sexual intercourse on her. He then refused to let her out of the stall,” the claim details.

Story continues below advertisement

When she reported some of the incidents to superiors, the lawsuit alleges Steele was ridiculed, punished and once told to “be the bigger person.”

None of the allegations has been proven in court. The City of Leduc has not yet filed a statement of defence.

“The City of Leduc oversees the fire department, and firefighters are City of Leduc employees. Because they’re employees, the city has an obligation to create a safe work environment that’s free of abuse, harassment and discrimination,” Steele’s lawyer Robert Martz told Global News.

He argues that was not the case.

Click to play video: 'Historic workplace harassment claims rising during the pandemic: Experts'
Historic workplace harassment claims rising during the pandemic: Experts

Global News has learned the City of Leduc ordered a third party review of the behaviour within the service. That report was delivered in January but the details of it have not been released.

Story continues below advertisement

Martz expects the existence of that report, and now the lawsuit will lead to more women coming forward.

“It’s early, but we think there will be dozens,” he predicted.

Global News asked the City of Leduc for a copy of the report but was told it is an internal document and would not be made public.

In response to the lawsuit in general, a spokesperson issued a statement.

“The City of Leduc has been made aware of serious allegations,” Derek Prohar wrote in an email.

“As the matter is under investigation and now before the courts, the city is unable to comment. No further information is available at this time.”

File photo of Christa Steele in her uniform.
File photo of Christa Steele in her uniform. Courtesy, Christa Steele

The statement of claim says those involved have sustained serious injuries and consequences, including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, insomnia and other consequences.

Story continues below advertisement

It does not list an amount the plaintiffs are seeking.

Instead, Martz said his clients are focusing on a push for accountability.

“I don’t want my story to focus on those terrible things. I want my story to be able to focus on empowering women and men to come forward to create positive change,” said Steele.

Sponsored content

AdChoices