British Columbia

Fire department's sexual harassment slammed by mediator

A report by veteran B.C. mediator Vince Ready takes the Richmond Fire Rescue Department to task for years of harassment and discrimination against women firefighters.

A report by B.C. mediator Vince Readytakes theRichmond Fire Rescue Department to task for years of harassment and discrimination against women firefighters.

Ready had been hired to deal with a harassment grievance filed by the Richmond firefighters union against the Lower Mainland city inMay 2005.

Earlier this year, all four women firefighters in the city walked off the job to protest their treatment by the men they worked with.

In the report obtained by CBC News on Friday, Ready says heobserved a culture in the fire department that is "juvenile and hostile" towards women. He says that hostility presents a barrier to women's advancement, and even leaves them afraid to go to work.

Any minor attempts to fix the workplace, he says, have been eclipsed by years of inaction on the part of the city.

Separate showers needed: report

For years, women firefighters have not had separate washroom, shower and change facilities at many Richmond firehalls.

Ready says that has to change now, as the current situation has inflamed an often "sexualized" environment, one that undermines the dignity of women, and reminds them daily the workplace was not built for them.

He has also recommended that the city and the union increase their commitment to ongoing awareness training, and that a forum be provided to address harassment issues.

Ready says the city and the union have agreed to comply with his recommendations.

Ex-firefighter welcomes Ready report

One former Richmond firefighter says Ready's report is a breath of fresh air that will be welcomed by other women firefighters.

"Even not being on the job, and reading this report, it's validating. It lends credibility, finally, to the issues that have faced many women in the fire service," said Karen White, who fought fires in Richmond for 14 years

She says that during that time, she witnessed and was the target of sexual harassment.

The new report follows on the heels of a review prepared for the city earlier this year by Vancouver lawyer Sue Paish. All four women firefighters in Richmond boycotted that review, calling it a whitewash.