Nfld. & Labrador

Spaniard's Bay harassment allegations not unique, says women's council

The Advisory Council on the Status of Women says allegations of intimidation and harassment by the lone female firefighter in Spaniard's Bay are not surprising and more needs to be done to prevent harassment in the workplace.

'It happens in numerous workplaces whether it's paid employment or volunteers,' says Linda Ross

Linda Ross is the President of the Provincial Advisory Council on the Status of Women. (Stephanie Tobin/CBC)

The president of the Provincial Advisory Council on the Status of Women says allegations of intimidation and harassment by the lone female firefighter in Spaniard's Bay are not surprising and more needs to be done to prevent harassment in the workplace.

Linda Ross said it was "completely and utterly inappropriate" to play a pornographic video at a training session

While most people know that, she said, harassment does happen.

"We are aware that sexual harassment happens, it doesn't just happen in Spaniard's Bay … it happens in numerous workplaces whether it's paid employment or volunteers," said Ross.

Two-thirds of the Spaniard's Bay volunteer fire department resigned amid allegations of harassment from the department's lone female member. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

The town of Spaniard's Bay was plunged into turmoil after two-thirds of its fire brigade abruptly resigned, bringing to a head a dispute that had simmered for weeks.

Brenda Seymour, a town councilor and the only female member of the brigade, said she's been threatened, intimidated, overlooked for promotion, and exposed to sexually inappropriate behaviour and comments within the department.

"Women going into what are traditionally male dominated fields is a difficult pill for many men to swallow and it's not age related ... it goes across ages," Ross told CBC's St. John's Morning Show.

"There's still this sort of sense that it is a mans world and women don't belong there."

Worried about backlash

Janice Kennedy of the Bay St. George Status of Women Council agrees the incident in Spaniard's Bay is upsetting.

We need to stop talking and start acting.- Janice Kennedy

She also worries that the backlash and division in the town could scare others from coming forward about harassment.

"It's very scary to do something, to come forward and make those allegations because victim blaming is so prevalent in our society, we don't want to upset the status quo," Kennedy told CBC's Corner Brook Morning Show.

"But at the same time, who wants to work in a workplace everyday where they do feel harassed, where they feel they're not valued, where they're not treated as an equal … it's a very difficult place to be in."

Both Ross and Kennedy said comments like "it's only a joke" or "boys will be boys" do not justify bad behaviour, and people need to be educated about what is inappropriate in the workplace.

You can have a difference of opinion with somebody … but you can't sexually harass them.- Linda Ross

"We're trying to do that work in the schools with children, we realize there's a tremendous amount that needs to be done with adults as well," said Ross.

"It is 2016 and the fact that we're still having these conversations, it's frustrating but we need to have them ... we need to stop talking and start acting," said Kennedy.

Ross added that it's up to government and employers to create policies that foster respect in the workplace to help eliminate inappropriate behaviour, because everyone has the right to a safe environment..

"You can have a difference of opinion with somebody, you may not necessarily get along with them, but you can't sexually harass them and that's the part that people are so offended by," said Ross.

"There are protocols and mechanisms for how to deal with difference and we're not seeing that used."

Individuals and fire departments have also been speaking out on social media about respect in the workplace.

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