Nfld. & Labrador·Analysis

Porn, persecution and pigheadedness: A week to forget in Spaniard's Bay

For a town that normally flies under the radar, the Newfoundland community of Spaniard's Bay has found itself under nation-wide scrutiny over a scandal with its volunteer fire brigade, writes Terry Roberts.

Caution: This article contains graphic details that some readers may find disturbing

Spaniard's Bay fire dept scandal

6 years ago
Spaniard's Bay fire dept scandal 3:19

Typically, Spaniard's Bay is a town that flies under the radar. 

It's a garden-variety community of less than 3,000 in Newfoundland's Conception Bay, just north of its larger neighbour, Bay Roberts.

Being cast in the national spotlight — a highly critical one at that — is a rarity, but that's what happened to the town and its all-volunteer fire department for the last week. 

Names like Brenda Seymour, Victor Hiscock, Tony Menchions and Jeremy Hall appeared in media reports across Canada and internationally, while the controversy that elevated them into the spotlight has sparked heated discussions on issues such as gender discrimination and workplace harassment.

A little porn to cap the day

Salacious revelations about the playing of a pornographic video in a training session ensured this story would get top billing on newscasts, and allegations of sexual harassment and mistreatment by Brenda Seymour, the only woman on the town's fire brigade, and the subsequent mass resignation of more than 20 firefighters, ignited a firestorm.

Jeremy Hall was removed as chief in the regional fire Bay de Grave fire department, which serves several communities in Conception Bay North. (CBC)

A town councillor, Sheri Collins, stepped down in frustration, but refuses to tell her story.

Then there's Steve Smith, who was terminated as the town's bylaw enforcement officer.

The town said it couldn't afford the position, a situation that apparently had gone unnoticed during his hiring just a few short weeks earlier.

But Smith only added fuel to the flames by going public with accusations that his dismissal came after he expressed concerns about the way council was handling the Brenda Seymour situation.

He accused the town's leaders of "being in over their heads" and said dealing with the council in Spaniard's Bay was like walking "into the Twilight Zone."

Critical media coverage

The fallout didn't end there.

The man who played the porn in 2014, Jeremy Hall, was terminated as an instructor last week by the province's fire and emergency services agency. On Monday, we learned he has been fired as chief of the South River-based Bay de Grave fire department. He is still allowed to work as a volunteer firefighter.

Hall was heavily criticized for trying to defend the video, saying it was meant to let the firefighters, including Seymour, the only female in the room, "blow off some steam" at the end of a long day of training.

The short video features a couple engaged in sexual intercourse, and concludes with the female spraying ejaculate across the room.

Alleging threats, intimidation

Details about these eye-raising events unfolded over just a few days, and included more drama and rancor than you'll find in a typical novel. They included further allegations by Seymour that she was being threatened and intimidated.

The resulting media coverage generated an immediate and critical response.

One commenter on social media went so far as to say the roads in Spaniard's Bay must be in terrible shape from all the knuckle-dragging that goes on there.

Hero's welcome

6 years ago
There was a thunderous roar when the 20 or so former Spaniard's Bay firefighters marched as a group into the crowd assembled for a rally at the municipal centre Thursday night. 1:12

Inside the community, much of its citizenry appears to have turned against Seymour, with hundreds showing up in support of the ex-firefighters during a public rally. Almost 1,000 people joined a Facebook page in support of the fire department, and there is even a petition calling for Seymour's removal from the fire department.

Images of young children carrying placards saying "support our men" drew criticism from those outraged at the sight, while Mayor Tony Menchions also weighed in, denying it was a gender issue and calling on the firefighters to return.

There were emergency meetings, government statements stressing its commitment to a workplace free of harassment, and assurances from Menchions that "cooler heads will prevail."

Firefighters stay mum

Missing amongst all this is a coherent explanation from the former Spaniard's Bay chief, Victor Hiscock, and the other firefighters.

Why did the firefighters resign, leaving citizens in a precarious situation by turning in their emergency pagers?

Are they a bunch of old-school misogynists, as some have suggested?

Do they have proof that Seymour is a divisive force on the fire department, as others have suggested?

These and other questions remain unanswered because the firefighters have clammed up, apparently on the advice of a lawyer whose identity remains unknown to this reporter.

Firefighter Cory Mahaney gave his assessment of the situation in a long-winded Facebook post in which he impugned Seymour's abilities as a firefighter, questioned her motives for speaking out, and threw his full support behind Hiscock.

Other firefighters have reached out to CBC News, but they either wouldn't give their names or later retracted their statements.

A much smaller brigade

So now the brigade is reduced to just eight members, including Brenda Seymour and her husband, Martin Seymour, and the town's spirit of unity is on life support following the opening of grievous wounds that show no signs of healing.

The once garden-variety community is now a lightning rod for those fighting for gender equality, and the setting for a bitter internal dispute that could take years to resolve.


Terry Roberts is a journalist with CBC's bureau in St. John's.