Mayor of Winnipeg not surprised by report about firefighters refusing to help Indigenous woman

Winnipeg report says racial bias affected the treatment of Indigenous patient

Brian Bowman says he was disappointed after reading a report about city firefighters who refused to help an Indigenous patient but wasn’t surprised by the incident.

“It’s disappointing anytime you hear situations of racism is being alleged or described but it shouldn’t surprise us sadly because we know that racism exists in a systemic way throughout Canada, through every level of government,” said Bowman.

Bowman was responding to a damning report involving the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service (WFPS) that states racism was a factor in two firefighter’s refusals to treat an Indigenous patient.

According to the report a 911 call was placed on Oct. 7, 2020 for a 23 year old Indigenous woman with a self inflicted stab wound to the neck.

Four firefighters, one referred to as the respondent in the report, and two paramedics arrived on scene.

One paramedic, who in the report is named as the Complainant, proceeded to treat the woman.

According to the report, first obtained and reported by the Winnipeg Free Press, two firefighters refused to help the paramedic who is also a person of colour.

One firefighter referred to the call as “just another call in the North End,” according to the report that APTN News partially obtained.

The paramedic had previously made complaints about racist social media posts by other members of the WFPS, and that several years ago the paramedic reported one of the firefighters who was at the scene called him a “sand n word.”

The report also said that the second firefighter was aware of the request that he accompany the ambulance and that he “refused to do so as a result of the racial animus” he had for the paramedic who had the highest medical authority on the scene.

The paramedic had made two requests for one of two firefighters on scene to accompany the patient, but neither did so right away.

The paramedic said the conduct of one of the firefighters as causing delay in transporting the patient to hospital, compromising the patient’s safety.

It was only after another firefighter on scene had asked the respondent to accompany the patient in the ambulance that the ambulance departed.

“The investigator finds that the Respondents failure to voluntarily take steps to assist the complainant until he was ordered to do so by Witness 1 was more likely than not the result of personal animus arising from the respondent’s knowledge of the complainant’s previous complaints of racism,” the report said.

The paramedic filed a complaint under the Respectful Workplace Administrative Standard about the firefighter’s conduct.

The report was conducted by Laurelle Harris of Equitable Solutions Consulting.

“The patient’s social standing/race/indigeneity as the likely subject of implicit bias that affected the conduct of some members that night,” the report said.

Once in the ambulance, other than handing the paramedic an IV line, the firefighter, by his account, did nothing to assist the paramedic.

“He did not take over putting pressure of the wound from the patient herself while the complainant conducted interventions that required the use of both of his hands,” the report stated.

These actions were not considered by the investigator to be a breach of the Respectful Workplace Administrative Standard or the Code of Conduct.

However, the firefighter’s failure to take over putting pressure on the neck “denotes a lack of concern on his part for the patient’s physical and emotional wellbeing,” the report stated.

“This lack of concern is indicative of the presence of implicit bias on the basis of the social standing and/or the race/indigeneity of the patient.”

According to the report, the four firefighters on the scene also came up with the same explanation despite the contradicting video evidence.

“The Investigator finds it implausible that all four members of the crew have asserted the same explanation for the delay, when none of the four crew members narratives accord with the video evidence,” the report said.

Manitoba Metis Federation president David Chartrand and Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas are calling for the firefighters involved to be fired.

Manitoba Liberal leader Dougald Lamont is also calling for the firing of the firefighters involved.

“Changing culture should mean if a first responder thinks they get to pick and choose who to help, they have no business working as a first responder,” Lamont said in a statement.

Despite the calls for the firefighter’s dismissal – Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service Chief John Lane can’t say whether or not those involved will be terminated.

“The disciplinary process is ongoing and that process will involve dialogue with unions. The actual outcomes for individuals are considered to be private human resources matters and will not be discussed publicly,” Lane said in a press conference.

Michelle Gawronsky, president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union, which represents city paramedics, said in an emailed statement to APTN that the report serves as a wake up call to the WFPS and the City of Winnipeg.

“Though serious concerns about racist, discriminatory, and disrespectful behaviour within the WFPS had previously been raised, the senior WFPS leadership failed to meaningfully challenge the internal culture of denying and even covering up racist and discriminatory behaviour, and of blaming and shaming its victims. This report is a wake-up call to the City that this culture cannot continue.”

As for how the city is addressing these issues – Bowman said the city has numerous initiatives in place such as the creation and support of the Indigenous accord and mandatory reconciliation training for all city staff.

Lane said frontline workers will be required to complete anti-racism and diversity training.

“More than 200 WFPS frontline leaders will be required to participate in antiracism and diversity training. This is being organized right now and will be scheduled within the next month.”

The investigator reached out to the patient for the report – but the city has not yet reached out to her in regards to this incident.

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