'Sends a terrible message': Sudbury volunteer firefighters face discipline, termination

Eleven volunteer firefighters are being disciplined and three of those are being terminated in Sudbury, Ont., over comments they made about a proposal to overhaul fire services, according to their union.

Coun. Gerry Montpellier calling for investigation into action taken by city

Some volunteer firefighters are being penalized after voicing their concerns over a plan that would have largely replaced their members with full-time firefighters, according to the Christian Labour Association of Canada. (Angela Gemmill/CBC)

Eleven volunteer firefighters are being disciplined and three of those are being terminated in Sudbury, Ont., over comments they made about a proposal to overhaul fire services, according to their union.

"This is a slap in the face," said Gord O'Coin, with the Sudbury Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC).

"We don't believe that the volunteers did anything wrong."

City staff's paramedic and fire services optimization plan proposed closing 10 fire halls, reducing the number of volunteers firefighters and hiring 58 new full-time firefighters.
Left to right: Christian Labour Association of Canada representatives Matthew Walchuk and Gord O'Coin are appealing the City of Greater Sudbury's decision to discipline and terminate some volunteer firefighters. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

The idea polarized the city, and split volunteer and career firefighters.

It was scrapped by city council in April one month after it was presented, due to its high cost and the short time that was given to review its details.

'We'll get through this'

During the lead up to city council's vote, some volunteers voiced their concerns over the plan with city councillors, and wrote and shared social media posts about the negative impact they believed optimization would have on paramedic and fire services, according to O'Coin.

An investigation into those remarks began in June when letters were sent to schedule meetings between volunteers and deputy fire chief Darrel McAloney.

Some volunteers were officially rebuked on Thursday and Friday, according to O'Coin, but he could not say how many are being penalized at this time because disciplinary meetings are still taking place. 

"It makes me feel very unhappy," Coun. Gerry Montpellier said. "It sends a terrible message."
Greater Sudbury Coun. Gerry Montpellier is backing the Christian Labour Association of Canada's efforts to reverse the city's decision to discipline and terminate some volunteer firefighters. (Yvon Theriault/Radio-Canada)

Montpellier is demanding an investigation into the punishment and dismissal of volunteer firefighters, and he said he wants to know why the matter was not brought forward to the city's emergency services committee or city council before action was taken.

"I have all the confidence in our men and women out there wearing the uniform," Monpellier said.

"We will get through this."

'Violated City of Greater Sudbury employee handbook policies'

CLAC vows to appeal the discipline and termination of its members.

"A lot of it is excessive in our mind," O'Coin said. "I'm not sure exactly why the city has gone down this path."
Letters were sent to volunteer firefighters in June to meet with the city's deputy fire chief over public comments made about fire and paramedic services. (Supplied)

In an email statement sent to CBC News, the city confirmed that members of the community safety department are being disciplined, but did not mention dismissal.

"This is a result of certain individuals' actions which violated City of Greater Sudbury employee handbook policies related to political and work communications," a city spokesperson wrote.

"The City of Greater Sudbury respects the process it and the union have agreed upon in respect to disputes through the collective bargaining process."

Union vows to 'exhaust every resource' in collective agreement

Volunteers are considered part-time employees with the City of Greater Sudbury.

But O'Coin said he believes their conduct falls under a grey area because they are paid on average less than $3,500 per year.

"The message that's being sent to volunteers — that we're hearing back from our volunteers — is to not voice any concerns within social media or be able to speak to their councillors on any level, which we completely disagree with," O'Coin said.

"Our volunteers live and work in those communities, and so we believe that they have every right to speak to their councillors and voice their concerns as any other citizen."

The grievance process could take over a year, O'Coin said, but he is confident the city will have to reverse its decision. 

"We're going to exhaust every resource in our collective agreement to make sure that justice is there for our volunteers," O'Coin said.

"We believe that through the grievance procedure every single one of these volunteers will be reinstated."


Olivia Stefanovich

Senior reporter

Olivia Stefanovich is a senior reporter for CBC's Parliamentary Bureau based in Ottawa. She previously worked in Toronto, Saskatchewan and northern Ontario. Connect with her on Twitter at @CBCOlivia. Story tips welcome: