Racist actions could lead to firing, Calgary fire chief says

Calgary's fire chief told city councillors on Wednesday that those who violate respectful workplace policies may find themselves out of a job.

City officials warn racism in the ranks will not be tolerated at fire department

Calgary fire Chief Steve Dongworth says racism won't be tolerated within the department. (Audrey Neveu/CBC)

Calgary's fire chief told members of city council on Wednesday that those who violate respectful workplace policies may find themselves out of a job.

Steve Dongworth has been addressing allegations of racism in his department since a CBC News story last month. 

It revealed that several former and current firefighters who are black, Indigenous or people of colour have faced an "extremely toxic environment" including repeated and ongoing acts of racist behaviour in the workplace.

The chief told the community and protective services committee that historically, fire departments have been resistant to diversification.

As well, he said there's a code of silence and fear of retaliation in fire services which discourages the reporting of poor behaviour, "until often, it's too late."

Actions being taken

Dongworth said that despite what's been reported, there have been investigations of complaints and action has been taken.

The city has refused to release any details of those investigations, citing confidentiality.

He said that people will be held accountable for their actions and there is zero tolerance for racism.

"Zero tolerance doesn't mean we fire everyone. Zero tolerance means we don't let anything go by without the appropriate response," said Dongworth. 

"Sometimes, that's just a conversation in the workplace. Other times, maybe it is firing people."

Dongworth told the committee that five firefighters have been fired over the past decade for breaching the city's respectful workplace policy.

The city recently updated that policy and the chief said his members are currently being trained on the city's code of conduct.

That process is expected to be completed in the next month or so.

Becoming anti-racist

City manager David Duckworth told the committee that the city's executive leadership team acknowledges the existence of systemic racism and that greater efforts are needed to identify it and address the problem.

But he said there is no doubt about the city's commitment to becoming an anti-racist organization.

"Harassment and discrimination in the workplace are completely unacceptable behaviours and they will not be tolerated," said Duckworth.

Calgary's first Black firefighter speaks out against racism within the workplace

1 year ago
Duration 10:49
A group of current and former BIPOC employees at the Calgary Fire Department are demanding nine changes to what they describe as a "toxic work environment." Chris Coy, who is a retired captain, says he faced discrimination since Day 1.

Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra told reporters that he's satisfied with what he's hearing about addressing the problems inside the department.

"All the indicators that we have are that we're moving in the right direction, about as fast as we can, " said Carra.

"That in no way excuses the places where we're lagging and the problems that we do have but we're focused on solutions — which is what we have to be."

Carra agreed with the chief that it does take time to change an organization's culture. 

Committee expanding

The community and protective services committee also approved changes to the city's anti-racism action committee.

Last October, council appointed 11 citizen members and two city bureaucrats to the committee.

The panel is tasked with developing and implementing a community-based anti-racism strategy for the city.

Administration noted that no members were appointed who could represent the anti-racist feminist perspective on the committee.

So the solution is to add two new members to the group who can bring that to the table.

If council approves the recommendation, two members will be selected from a reserve list of candidates which was developed last fall.

The positions are expected to be filled soon after the next city council meeting which is scheduled for March 1.