City quietly resumed investigation into alleged hate crime, firefighters deny wrongdoing

The September 2022 attack allegedly victimized the first openly non-binary firefighter at Ottawa Fire Services. (CBC - image credit)
The September 2022 attack allegedly victimized the first openly non-binary firefighter at Ottawa Fire Services. (CBC - image credit)

The City of Ottawa is continuing a workplace harassment investigation into an alleged attack on the fire department's first openly non-binary firefighter, even while there are active criminal charges laid in the case.

The city quietly resumed the investigation despite the firefighters' association initially saying the department would wait for the criminal process to play out and now both men charged say they did nothing wrong.

A criminal court will determine whether this was a case of an on-duty hate crime or hazing gone wrong.

Police have called it a hate crime but what neither department has revealed is that the September 2022 attack allegedly victimized the first openly non-binary firefighter at Ottawa Fire Services (OFS) and the charges are against their fellow pump mate and own captain and, according to sources, began as hazing.

Six days elapsed between the incident on Sept. 14 at a Barrhaven fire station before it was ultimately reported to police by the victim on Sept. 20.

In a statement to CBC News last week, Ottawa fire Chief Paul Hutt said the city "has resumed its investigation into this matter following the conclusion of an investigation by the Ottawa Police Service (OPS)."

That internal investigation, mandated under the city's workplace violence and harassment policy, was "temporarily placed on hold while OPS completed its investigation," Hutt said.

While police have laid charges against two Ottawa firefighters, none of those charges has yet been tested.

CBC News is not naming the rookie complainant.

Eric Einagel, 37, is charged with assault for choking, aggravated assault, forcible seizure for allegedly grabbing the rookie from behind and criminal harassment.

Francis Ferland/CBC
Francis Ferland/CBC

His lawyer Dominic Lamb says the allegations against him are "outrageous and patently false."

"Both personally and professionally, Eric has always supported and embraced a diverse workplace that reflects our community," Lamb said.

"The accusation that he committed crimes of violence against a gender-diverse individual has been devastating and is, quite frankly, outrageous and patently false. He looks forward to his day in court."

Einagel is a gold-medal winning, fire fitness competitor who has been celebrated by the department, featured in local TV interviews and on social media.

Capt. Greg Wright, 59, is charged with criminal negligence causing bodily harm for failing to provide the rookie with "medical attention." Sources within the fire department say Wright was specifically chosen to be the supervisor of the department's first openly non-binary member.

"While we respect the criminal process, we cannot fathom why he has been charged with this offence, having done nothing wrong," his lawyer Joshua Clarke said. "It is our intent to challenge the Crown's case if necessary."

Clarke said he and his client "are optimistic this can be resolved relatively quickly."

OFS would not say whether the "leave" of both employees is paid, nor whether the city is paying for the members' criminal legal representation. Nor would it explain the department's actions in the six days before police were ultimately notified of the case.

What happened on Sept. 14?

The allegations all refer to a single date — Sept. 14, 2022. On that Wednesday, according to an OFS staffing log viewed by CBC News, the rookie, Wright, Einagel and four others were working at Station 47 on Greenbank Road in Barrhaven.

Wright was the supervising captain on Pump 47, and was directly responsible for the rookie, Einagel and another firefighter but was also the most-senior ranking firefighter who was responsible for all personnel at the station at the time.

The remaining three firefighters work on Ladder 47.

Giacomo Panico/CBC
Giacomo Panico/CBC

Ottawa firefighters work a 24-hour shift, approximately eight times a month. During that daylong shift, they prepare and eat meals together.

The incident is alleged to have happened after one such meal at the dish sink, which is the site of many performative skirmishes between rookies and veterans, according to firefighters. Rookies are expected to do dishes, but according to firefighter workplace tradition, rookies are supposed to "fight" veteran firefighters to do this, and physically push them out of the way for the chance to do the grunt work. Sometimes, the veterans push back, firefighters said.

Police, however, allege that whatever physicality occurred was criminal and motivated by hate.

Einagel allegedly choked the complainant, grabbed their throat from behind and lifted them off the ground, according to sources.

The complainant alleged to police a series of gender-based slurs were hurled at them during the altercation, sources say.

The rookie, after allegedly not being permitted to seek medical attention, went to hospital the next day, according to sources.

Wright is charged with criminal negligence causing bodily harm for failing to provide the rookie with "medical assistance," a duty imposed on him by law as both a firefighter and their supervisor.

According to the city's workplace violence and harassment policy, reporting workplace violence is mandatory and "if an incident involves an assault or life-threatening situation, emergency services must be notified, and site-specific emergency procedures should be actioned."

But according to OPS, it was the victim themself who reported the incident to police six days after the alleged assault.

Any city "investigation must be concluded within 90 consecutive days of the complaint unless there are extenuating circumstances," according to the policy.

Chief Hutt said, "both Ottawa Fire Services members remain on leave. The City is assessing next steps as part of its discipline policy."

That could include "monitoring, a reprimand, or being subject to a transfer, a suspension or a dismissal."

"As this issue remains under investigation and involves confidential personnel matters, we are not able to disclose further details at this time."

Wright and Einagel are next scheduled in court on Feb. 15.