Mayor, fire chief appear at odds after Calgary's top firefighter says he can't release workplace reviews

·3 min read

Calgary's fire chief says there is "no wiggle room" to make public any part of two workplace culture reviews done over the last six years, even though Mayor Naheed Nenshi said last week that he expects portions to be released "soonish."

The reports could clarify how much was known about a toxic workplace culture at the Calgary Fire Department (CFD) and how long it has been going on.

Last week, CBC News reported detailed accounts from seven current and former BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of colour) firefighters who say they've been dealing with racism at work from colleagues for decades. The group alleges racialized bullying has led to suicides of CFD members.

When retired firefighter Anwer Amery tried acquire the workplace review documents through freedom of information requests, the city initially denied the existence of the first review and sent the report from the second review with every single word redacted.

Last week CBC News asked Fire Chief Steve Dongworth directly for a high-level summary and any recommendations stemming from each review. This week, Dongworth responded, explaining City of Calgary lawyers have advised him not to release any portion of the documents.

"My feet are being held to the fire," Dongworth said in a phone interview.

Nenshi calls racism within CFD 'horrifying'

The city commissioned the two workplace culture reviews with Calgary lawyers — Deborah Prowse and Jean Torrens —interviewing employees who were promised anonymity

That's why Dongworth says he's been advised by the City of Calgary's legal team that he can't even release a summary or recommendations.

But last Wednesday, after calling racism within CFD "horrifying," Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he wants to see what's in the reports and expects parts of the reviews to be released "soonish."

"I, too, am curious; what did we know, when did we know about it and what did we do about it at that time, and those are the answers I'm looking for as well.

"I frankly don't think it's a good look to release a report where every word is redacted, but I also understand that we have to protect whistleblowers and a lot of people agreed to be interviewed on the premise of utmost confidentiality."

Nenshi said he will have city staff determine what can be released.

"It'll happen as a matter of course," said the mayor.

Dongworth said he wasn't aware Nenshi was interested in reading either of the reports and would "have to get advice" before considering whether the mayor and council could view any portions.

The fire chief said although they can't be made public, the recommendations are "driving actions."

"It certainly made us take some action at the time," said Dongworth.

Chief hasn't done enough, firefighters say

BIPOC members account for less than three per cent of the 1,400 firefighters in Calgary.

In the summer, several of those firefighters sent a letter to the chief demanding change.

They allege the chief has known for years about racism within the city's firehalls, and several met with Dongworth in 2005 to detail specific instances of race-based bullying. They feel the chief hasn't done enough to create cultural change.

As for the recommendations proposed in the letter, Dongworth says he is "taking a very careful look at those nine recommendations right now."

Dongworth said there is "no tolerance for discrimination or harassment and every single reported instance is investigated.

"We are committed to an appropriate workplace that is psychologically safe for our employees."