Trial begins today for alleged assault of non-binary firefighter, attempt to silence them

The trial of a former Ottawa firefighter and a current fire captain is set to begin in the Ontario Court of Justice in Ottawa today. Eric Einagel is accused of choking Ash Weaver in an assault during a ritualistic dishwashing competition, among other allegations. Capt. Gregory Wright is accused of taking reasonable steps to prevent the assault, as well as trying to hush it up afterward. (Stu Mills/CBC  - image credit)

The criminal trial of an Ottawa fire captain and a former firefighter, both charged following a ritualistic dishwashing competition in 2022 that allegedly turned violent before being hushed up, is set to begin Monday before a judge alone in the Ontario Court of Justice.

Eric Einagel, 38, is accused of choking openly non-binary rookie firefighter Ash Weaver during an assault that caused bodily harm, as well as harassment by threatening conduct that caused Weaver to fear for their safety. Einagel was eventually fired.

He had previously been charged with aggravated assault, which was replaced with assault causing bodily harm. A separate charge of forcibly seizing Weaver was dropped.

Capt. Gregory Wright, 58, is facing a previously unreported charge, first laid in May 2023 and altered in February. Wright was Weaver's supervisor at the time of the incident, and department sources told CBC he had been hand-picked to oversee the rookie.

He's accused of disciplining Weaver or adversely affecting their employment — or threatening to — with the intent to stop Weaver from going to police about Einagel's alleged assault.

As well, the details of Wright's criminal negligence causing bodily harm charge were changed, from failing to provide medical assistance to failing to take reasonable steps to prevent bodily harm.

He was suspended for three days without pay after the alleged incident.

Dish competitions a fire station custom

The alleged violence happened Sept. 14, 2022, at Station 47 on Greenbank Road in Barrhaven, during a frequently observed fire station custom in which junior employees compete for the right to do chores like washing dishes, thereby demonstrating their eagerness to perform to senior staff, according to two internal fire department investigations obtained by CBC last year.

While the reports, which do not mention anyone by name, found that policies were violated and discipline was warranted, the criminal allegations against Einagel and Wright have not been tested in court and the two remain innocent in the eyes of the law.

The report on the supervisor's actions found he violated Ontario's Occupational Health and Safety Act when he failed to report the incident as required, and that he violated the city's workplace violence and harassment policy and code of conduct when he discouraged the complainant from reporting the incident during a conversation in a supply closet.

The complainant said the supervisor placed a chair in a supply closet under a set of stairs in the truck bay, told them to go in and calm down, slammed the door, turned off the lights, and said:

"This has nothing to do with you being who you are. This was just a dish fight that got out of hand. You're not the first person to be choked out, many firefighters before have been strangled. I have been choked out at work and that is something that happens, and you can get over it. Many firefighters have got into huge fights and broken things. No one reports on one another. You will not go and report this, this is a family, and we work it out in station. HR will blow it out of proportion, you don't want that happening to your name and having others holding it against you or coming after you for the rest of your career and I will not have this on my time."

The alleged incident happened in September at Station 47 on Greenbank Road in Barrhaven.
The alleged incident happened in September at Station 47 on Greenbank Road in Barrhaven.

The alleged incident happened in September 2022 at Station 47 on Greenbank Road in Barrhaven. (Google Maps)

The report does not address the verbal accusations separately. It states only that both parties agree the conversation in the supply closet was about whether a report would be made, but that they each "indicate differing content."

The report on the then firefighter, meanwhile, found he violated the workplace violence and harassment policy when he choked and pushed the rookie against a kitchen counter, and when he tossed dishes onto the complainant's hands as they were washing others.

Joshua Clarke, Wright's lawyer, told CBC last year that it's difficult to compare the fire department's investigations with the criminal matters.

"It's important to know the different standards at play here. Internal investigations [require] 50 per cent plus one level of certainty. Criminal charges require proof beyond a reasonable doubt," Clarke said.

Fired firefighter's grievance mediated

The firefighters' union filed grievances over Einagel's firing and Wright's suspension.

Einagel's grievance came to a "mutually agreed resolution" after both sides were heard by an arbitrator and it went to mediation, union president Dave André told CBC on Friday.

The details are subject to a non-disclosure agreement typical of mediated matters, he said.

André was able to say that Einagel is not employed by the City of Ottawa.

Wright's grievance won't be heard until after the criminal trial, André added.

Last year, Weaver was on leave with pay. André said he couldn't elaborate on their current work status, except to say that Weaver remains an employee of the fire department. Weaver's lawyer Emilie Taman declined to comment.