• Sat. Oct 29th, 2022

Racial slurs, physical assaults, a noose hung in a fire hall, workplace reviews kept secret. These are just some of the experiences detailed by BIPOC employees at the Calgary Fire Department.

Jan 18, 2021

Casual use of the N-word. Physical assaults. A stuffed animal painted black and hanged from a noose at a firehall where a Black firefighter worked. Two workplace reviews the city keeps so secret, it has denied one’s very existence and redacted every word in the other when forced by law to turn it over.
These are just some of the experiences detailed by a group of current and former BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of colour) employees at the Calgary Fire Department (CFD) who are demanding nine changes to what they describe as an “extremely toxic environment.”
A letter detailing a workplace “crisis” was sent to Chief Steve Dongworth last summer from self-described “racialized, or otherwise marginalized members” of the fire department.
Initially, more than a dozen active and retired members were prepared to sign it, but ultimately the letter was sent without signatures after the employees decided the risk of workplace repercussions was too great.
The group described being “deeply wounded by degrading experiences” suffered at the hands of their colleagues and managers following years of trying to raise the issues with the chief.
“We have been ostracized, humiliated, degraded, slandered, undermined, ignored, verbally and physically assaulted, sexually harassed, and sexually assaulted,” reads the letter, provided to CBC News.
A letter describing a workplace “crisis” was sent to Chief Steve Dongworth last summer. Active and retired BIPOC members are demanding nine changes at CFD. Dongworth did not grant CBC News an interview for this story but did say the city takes all allegations of racism seriously. (Audrey Neveu/CBC)
It details allegations of racism and sexism that, in some cases, have contributed to suicide, the authors allege.
“People have killed themselves because of this culture, and Ive been trying to tell people that for five years,” said recently retired captain Chris Coy, who was the first Black firefighter to be hired in Calgary.
Although there are always complex reasons when someone takes their own life, both Coy and the authors of the letter suggest bullying related to the culture of racism has contributed to other suicides.
CBC News has agreed not to identify four current members who confirm the hostile culture at CFD and are, according to one, “viscerally afraid” of retaliation. Two retired members have agreed to be named and two other people who spoke at the City of Calgarys three-day public consultation on systemic racism will also be identified.
Dongworth declined to grant an interview to CBC News and provided a written statement instead. He didnt deny racism exists within the department and said harassment and discrimination will not be tolerated. Dongworth also said CFD is creating a Safe Disclosure Office so members can report abuses.
CBC News requested information from the city, including the workplace reviews. Not only did the city not provide the reports, it did not acknowledge the request.