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City of Leduc approves Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy following harassment allegations

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City of Leduc approves Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy following harassment allegations
WATCH: The City of Leduc is moving ahead on a workplace harassment plan, after numerous allegations from female firefighters claiming they experienced years of harassment and assault. Breanna Karstens-Smith has more on the city's steps and the response from the women involved. – Apr 25, 2022

Leduc city councillors approved a $165,000 Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy Monday night.

City manager Derek Prohar told councillors the ultimate goal would be the overall elimination of any bullying, harassment and discrimination of city employees.

But city employees who say they have experienced these things, think the plan is shortsighted.

The strategy was deemed necessary after multiple Leduc Fire Services staff members came forward with allegations of systemic workplace harassment.

Those allegations only came to light in February when two female firefighter paramedics filed a lawsuit against the city outlining nearly two decades’ worth of claims.

On Monday night, Prohar told Global News the city would have told the public about the issues eventually.

“Our cultural strategy, and moving forward was going to be a two to three-year plan. The first year was going to be education and the next two were going to be implementation,” he explained.

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Prohar added the plan had to be accelerated because of the lawsuit.

“I came in with a mandate to look at the culture and where necessary, make changes — and that’s exactly what I’m doing.”

Read more: Leduc firefighter resigns in scathing speech in front of city council

But details outlining exactly what those changes are, and will be, are few and far between.

The city did admit two firefighters left the service earlier this year but would not say whether they resigned or were fired.

While the strategy was approved, exactly what it will entail and how the money will be spent has not yet been outlined.

Mindy Smith spoke in front of councillors Monday to express her frustration, noting that she believes the strategy will be ineffective.

“You can put all the money you want into this but the implementation is the problem,” said Smith.

“There’s no buy-in because it’s right from the top down.”

Smith is one of the two female firefighter paramedics named in the lawsuit against the city.

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Monday was the first time she spoke publicly, visibly irritated by Prohar’s presentation to council.

Smith said she is one of the staff members who typically writes policies within Leduc Fire Services, so she was doubtful the strategy could be put into place.

“When all the people who write the policies are off on mental health leave, who is going to implement your action plan?” she said.

In an email to Global News following the meeting, a spokesperson with the City of Leduc said Smith’s concerns would be heard.

“We will be working with an outside firm that specializes in EDI work to conduct a full review of the City of Leduc as a workplace. We will insist that their process allows everyone to share their experience regardless of whether they are on leave,” the spokesperson wrote.

“The implementation will be wholistic — in all areas and departments.”

Read more: Leduc fire chief resigns after sexual harassment, bullying lawsuit filed against city

Christa Steele, the other firefighter paramedic named in the lawsuit, was also at the council meeting and shares the belief that the money is not being well spent.

“They’re trying to appease the public by offering up this next culture change or evaluation without dealing with what’s happening right now,” Steele told reporters.

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She said the plans to promote equity and to bring in a therapist for staff are insufficient.

“These things have already been implemented for a long time. It’s not those things that work, unfortunately,” she said.

“It’s not the videos you show, it’s not the mandatory workshops you have to go to, it’s not the posters… it’s accountability.”

Instead, Steele said she wants the already conducted $108,000 third-party report to be released.

The report was commissioned in 2021 by the city without the knowledge of council.

It was delivered in January 2022 and councillors have still yet to receive it. City administration is refusing to release the report citing privacy concerns.

Prohar said even if the report were to be redacted to protect the participant’s privacy, it would have “little content or value.” However, Steele believes it should be up to the public to determine whether that is the case.

She and multiple other male and female staff members were interviewed for the report. Steele believes the release would lead to more accountability and tangible action.

When asked, Prohar would not say whether people that the report deemed to be problematic were still working with Leduc Fire Services or not.

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“I’m not going to get into the details of the report itself. What I can say is we’re moving forward with a very clear and present action plan that will make this city a better place to work,” he said.

The city did commit to updating the public regularly on the progress and implementation of the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy. A solid timeline for its release, however, is not yet available.

The allegations made in the lawsuit against the City of Leduc have not been proven in court and the city has not filed a statement of defence.

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