Firefighter union claims 2 Sudbury city councillors are harassing fire chief

The union representing full-time firefighters believes a few Greater Sudbury city councillors have broken the law by harassing the city's fire chief.

Councillors took to social media to humiliate Trevor Bain, union says

The full-time firefighers union says that certain Sudbury city councillors have been harassing Fire Chief Trevor Bain. (Erik White/CBC)

The union representing full-time firefighters in Sudbury believes city councillors Gerry Montpellier and Michael Vagnini have broken the law by harassing the city's fire chief. 

CBC News has learned that Kris Volpel, president of the Sudbury Professional Firefighters Association, wrote to Kevin Fowke, Sudbury's general manager of corporate services, earlier this week, as a follow-up to a harassment complaint levelled against Montpellier and Vagnini.

In the letter, Volpel says their original complaint against the councillors filed with the city in March, has not been dealt with properly.

The association feels fire chief Trevor Bain has been consistently harassed by the councillors, who made "bullying" comments in the news media and social media. 

The letter to Fowke was later amended, with both councillors' names removed before being posted as a link on the association's Facebook page.

"The fire chief is working in a really toxic work environment because of this type of treatment and I feel a responsibility to bring that forward," says Kris Volpel, the president of the firefighters association, saying he made the complaint under the new provisions added to the Ontario Health and Safety Act as set out in Bill 168. 

Montpellier told CBC News he is aware he is one of the councillors accused of harassment.

"The [Sudbury Professional Firefighters] very clearly put it on their website that they are investigating or have been, or in the future will investigate me," Montpellier said.

"I never, ever at any one time mentioned the fire chief's name in any way shape or form ... they're not going to make threats about investigating me without proving it."

Harassment of fire chief began in March, union says

That harassment has allegedly continued even after the complaint was filed with the city in March.

"I've been observing the behaviour continue," says Volpel. "The commentary seems to be very much disparaging type remarks with the intention to humiliate the fire chief."

Volpel is calling for the Ministry of Labour or another third party to conduct an investigation. 

Privacy a concern, city won't comment

In an email to CBC News, Marie Edsall, a communications manager with the city, wrote they take all workplace related complaints seriously, and their response follows municipal policies and relevant government laws.  

Edsall also wrote: "There are a number of mechanisms available to employees ... to resolve these types of complaints."

She added the city will not be providing further comment, in order to respect the privacy rights of the individuals in question.

Continuing controvery around dismissal of firefighters

The union's complaints come as the controversy surrounding the discipline of 11 volunteer firefighters in Sudbury continues. 

Eight volunteers were reprimanded and three dismissed by city staff recently, allegedly for comments made on social media regarding their opposition to the city's proposed optimization plan, the union said.

City council held a closed door meeting on Wednesday to discuss the issue. In an email to CBC News, Mayor Brian Bigger said council "gave direction to staff" at the meeting, but did not provide details.

Bigger declined an interview, but in the email he says he is confident the grievance process will come to a fair conclusion.

"In respect to the allegations of the SPFFA, these matters are confidential and should not be discussed in a public forum. I was not a party to the meeting the SPFFA makes reference to and thus cannot comment further," Bigger wrote.