British Columbia

Former fire chief supports harassment claims

A former Richmond fire chief says certain male and female firefighters in his department were targets of discrimination and prejudice.

A former Richmond fire chief says certain male and female firefighters in his department were targets of discrimination and prejudice.

All four female firefighters working for the
City of Richmond walked off the job last
month alleging sexual harassment. One has
returned to work, but not at a firehall. (CBC)
Rick Papp makes the statement in a new affidavit filed in B.C. Supreme Court on Monday as evidence in the sexual harassment suit launched by former firefighter Jeanette Moznik.

Moznik is suing the City of Richmond, her union and a number of firefighters for sexual harassment and discrimination during her six years in the department.

Papp's affidavit says the merger of the Richmond Fire Service and the Vancouver Airport fire service in the mid-1990s caused dissension in the ranks – partially because six female firefighters came over from the airport. There had been no women in the Richmond Fire Service until then.

Moznik's lawyer Steve Gibson says even though Papp is named as a defendant in Moznik's suit, he is cooperating with her case.

"He is essentially a whistleblower. He acknowledges that there were systemic, extensive harassment problems that were going on," he said.

"He acknowledges that there were problems with people coming forward to make formal complaints through the harassment policy that was in effect. People were afraid there was going to be retribution when they came forward with these complaints."

Meanwhile, lawyers for the city of Richmond are arguing the court has no jurisdiction over Moznik's complaint.

The city takes the position that as a unionized employee, her allegations should be heard by an arbitration committee at the labour relations board.

But Gibson argues that the harassment was so widespread and pervasive, it far exceeded the bounds of a workplace issue.

He referred the judge to Papp's affidavit, which says female firefighter Jocelyn Roberts had come to him years earlier, saying she was afraid to file a harassment complaint.

Papp says Roberts told him, "If we file one, it will get 10 times worse than it is right now."

Roberts later took her own life.

Gibson says the city is just trying to keep such evidence out of the glare of publicity.

"I think the City of Richmond is concerned about a 'floodgates' argument, because there are a number of people who could pursue claims against them. I think they're doing a scorched earth defence in this case to try to keep it within arbitration that they would control."

All four female firefighters in Richmond left the job last month because of their work environment.

One of them returned last week to work in public relations at city hall. Moznik and two other women remain on leave.