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Council kept in the dark about firefighters' human rights complaint

A group of black firefighters has filed a human rights complaint against the Halifax Regional Fire Service.

A group of black firefighters has filed a human rights complaint against the Halifax Regional Fire Service.

As the fire chief defended race relations, city councillors demanded to know yesterday why they had been kept in the dark.

The human rights complaint was made in 2007 by the Halifax Association of Black Firefighters, but it had never been revealed to the public or council.

The group, representing the about 20 black firefighters out of 494 with the fire service, point to complaints dating back to 2002. Several allegations involve racism and humiliation while at the Nova Scotia Firefighters’ School.

Many incidents involved racial slurs, but the common thread is that investigations into the incidents were seen as inadequate.

In 2007 the department spent $40,000 on an independent review by Shebib and Associates to deal with the allegations. But afterward the group still decided to file a complaint with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission.

Some councillors discovered this information over the weekend from an anonymous mail package.

“I’m starting to feel like this council is like a bunch of mushrooms. We’re kept in the dark and fed BS,” said Northwest Arm-South End Coun. Sue Uteck.

Yesterday council ordered HRM staff to investigate the issue.

Fire Chief Bill Mosher, who has held his position since 2006, said its possible his department should have been more forthcoming.

“Possibly we should have, but I’m not aware there’s a written process to follow that says that when you get a human rights complaint that you run to council with every one of them,” he said.

He said the department is working on an action plan, and other than the mostly-isolated incidents, firefighters get along well.

“Aside from these issues, which predate my term as chief, the issues day to day are great. I’m not hearing any complaints from the group,” he said.

Offensive graffiti, e-mails among alleged discrimination

Derogatory remarks about black people loving chicken and bathroom graffiti of the N-word are among the racist behaviour endured by black firefighters, according to documents obtained by Metro Halifax.

A complaint by the Halifax Association of Black Firefighters and a subsequent study by Shebib and Associates say one prominent event involved an unofficial newsletter emailed to staff a few years ago.

“If you seem a bit bitter over your station assignments, just remember, you are not members of a targeted recruitment and therefore there is no political reason for you to be visible,” read the newsletter The Blaze.

“Just shut up, be happy you got a damn job and run your little white asses out there and be glad they are paying you.”

According to former fire chief Mike Eddy, the newsletter was tracked to an officer already demoted for 10 months for turning a blind eye to racial slurs. But the officer could not be disciplined for lack of evidence.

 
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