Former Halifax firefighter granted human rights inquiry after 9-year battle
Liane Tessier says she was the victim of gender discrimination at Herring Cove station
A human rights board of inquiry will look into claims of systemic gender discrimination within the Halifax fire department, a move that comes after a volunteer firefighter fought nine years to have her case heard.
The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission confirmed there will be a hearing to investigate whether Liane Tessier was bullied and discriminated against by her male colleagues when she worked at a station in Herring Cove.
"It's just been a miracle," Tessier told CBC News. "I just can't believe I had to fight as long as I did. But I knew that I wasn't the only woman that was having trouble in the fire service."
Tessier joined the service in 1998 and said she began to notice the discrimination at the male-dominated station in 2000.
"Bullying, devaluing, sort of ignoring of me and my accomplishments and my complaints," she said. "I noticed tampering of my belongings, and this sort of thing just got worse as time went on."
After several years of trying to deal with the matter internally, Tessier took her case to the Nova Scotia Human Rights Tribunal in 2007.
The tribunal spent five years investigating before dismissing the case. Tessier said after investing thousands of dollars in legal fees and emotional toll, the news was a blow.
"I'd been fighting tooth and nail and thought that the commission would do a proper job for the last five years and they had done nothing," said Tessier, who is no longer a firefighter.
'I was seen as less than'
But, Tessier said, attitudes were changing. She noticed women in other male-dominated workplaces, such as the RCMP, speaking out with similar stories.
"I spoke out against the men in the fire department because I was mistreated, I was treated like crap. I was being devalued. I was seen as less than," she said.
"I'm speaking out about my basic rights in the workplace: which is to be treated fairly, to be respected. And that's all I was doing."
She decided to push her case forward to the Nova Scotia Supreme Court. In May 2014, Justice Arthur LeBlanc agreed the human rights tribunal had mishandled her case, and ordered a second investigation.
Two years later, that investigation has been completed. The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission confirmed to Tessier this week that her case is being sent to a board of inquiry, which is similar to a court hearing and will have testimony from witnesses.
Voice will be heard
In a statement, Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency Chief Doug Trussler told CBC News he cannot comment on the case, but noted he has not received any human rights complaints during his tenure at chief, and is proud of that record.
Tessier's lawyer, Melissa MacAdam, said the case could have wider ramifications for women working in male-dominated workplaces across the province, depending on how the board rules.
"Ms. Tessier has gone through a humongous process to even get here," she said. "But now she has the opportunity to have her voice heard and to have the voices of other women, who may have suffered systemic discrimination within the service, speak as well."
Tessier said she hopes the public inquiry will result in more than an apology. She wants to see a legal framework within the Halifax Regional Municipality that will further protect female firefighters who come forward with gender discrimination complaints.
Case has cost more than $60K
Tessier said the case has cost her more than $60,000. She said she no longer works as a volunteer firefighter, and believes she was disqualified for a job as a career firefighter because of her gender.
According to the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, the next step is for the chief judge of the provincial court to appoint a board chair who will conduct an independent human rights board of inquiry into the matter.
The dates for the inquiry have not yet been set.