When Safety Doesn’t Seem To Count

What would you say if I told you two-thirds of a volunteer fire department, including the fire chief, quit en masse one day?  Most of us would wonder how the remaining one-third of the volunteer fire department copes with the possibility of having to fight a fire should one break out.

That’s exactly what happened in Spaniard’s Bay (Newfoundland, Canada) recently.

The volunteer fire department in Spaniard’s Bay only had one female firefighter, and the town seems to be divided over the fact that this one female firefighter hasn’t bought into the concept that “boys will be boys.”

But the worst of it all — and one that has been confirmed by the instructor himself — is that at the end of one classroom session on vehicle rescue, the instructor chose to include a hardcore porn video he knew, or should have known, would be considered inappropriate in the workplace and classroom setting.

*cue crickets chirping*

I’m not making that up.  In fact, the Fire and Emergency Services that oversees firefighting training in Newfoundland removed the instructor from its list of recognized instructors for “displaying inappropriate material” during an instruction session.  In other words, the allegation of a hardcore porn video being played at the end of the classroom session has been proven to the satisfaction of Fire and Emergency Services.

The instructor is none other than the chief of the South River-based Bay de Grave regional fire department, and in his defense, he blamed the victim for the situation alleging that she got a chuckle out of watching the video.  He also claims that he had played said video on other occasions at the conclusion of other classroom sessions “as a joke.”  Besides, according to him, people were free to leave the classroom instead of sitting through the “Triple-X” video.

At a town rally, the suggestion was floated that the lone female firefighter resign so that “a spirit of teamwork and camaraderie can return to the department.”

Victim Blaming

Some are saying that she knew what she was getting into when the woman signed up to be a volunteer firefighter in Spaniard’s Bay.  When no women were members of the fire department, it was a boys’ club so to speak.  But that’s neither here nor there.  This seems to be a case of workplace harassment.

What Is Workplace Harassment?

Workplace harassment is behavior by co-workers and/or employers that creates a hostile or offensive work environment.  This includes, but is not limited to, displaying and/or viewing and/or playing sexually suggestive, inappropriate, intimidating, or insensitive pictures and/or videos, as well as engaging in activities that sabotage the victim’s ability to work in the workplace environment.

The fact that the instructor felt the need to voice a disclaimer with regards to the “Triple X” video that was played at the end of his instruction period proves that he was aware that such a video could be interpreted as offensive to some in the volunteer fire department.  It also means that he knew that playing the sexually suggestive hardcore porn video was inappropriate.  The Fire and Emergency Services also felt that the video was inappropriate hence the removal of the instructor from their list of approved instructors.

Workplace Sexual Harassment_Canadian Labour Relations
Is It Just Her Colleagues?

According to the media, it’s not just the lone female firefighter’s colleagues who are responsible for the abuse.  A discussion on a Facebook page among the firefighters’s wives is providing grounds for a complaint of third-party harassment towards the female firefighter.

Sexual harassment in the workplace, according to one study, is perpetrated by co-workers in 55% of cases.  Third-party harassment is perpetrated in 13% of cases.

STUDY:  “Perspectives on Labour & Income: Work-related Sexual Harassment” by Holly Johnson.

There’s a legal responsibility for an employer — or even the volunteer fire chief — to address allegations of sexual harassment in the workplace (even if it’s a solitary incident).  Blaming the victim or refusing to take action can sometimes lead to civil and criminal charges among other things.

It Was Just One Incident

Actually, it wasn’t just one incident.  The hardcore porn video was among the worst examples of workplace sexual harassment.  The lone female firefighter also claimed that there were other incidents including one particularly intimidating and offensive situation where she says she was told that some of the male firefighters had committed an indecent act with regards to her knitted hat (provided to firefighters by the department).  It was “jokingly” suggested to her that she might want to wash the hat before wearing it again.

While it’s a fact that in Canada a single incident is enough to create a hostile work environment, in this case, it seems to be more than one incident.

But Is It Illegal?

The Criminal Code of Canada, the Canada Human Rights Act, and the Canadian Labour Code prohibit sexually harassing behavior, so depending on what can be proven, it’s very possible that criminal charges could be laid against one or more people for the incidents that happened at the fire department in Spaniard’s Bay.

Final Note

Some people on social media and in real life are backing the volunteer firefighters who quit en masse.  However, some of those backers believe that a fire hall is no place for a woman — a shocking comment to see posted on social media or hear stated in broadcast media interviews.

What Some Are Saying On Social Media
The bottom line is that this kind of behavior has no place in society, including the workplace.  It’s a serious social issue that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.  Let’s not be silent bystanders who watch unfettered bullying take place in our communities.

Elyse Bruce

SUGGESTED READING

BRENDA SEYMOUR GETS APOLOGY FROM SPANIARD’S BAY COUNCIL
http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/spaniards-bay-apology-brenda-seymour-1.3420220

COUNCILLOR CALLS FOR CHIEF’S RESIGNATION
http://www.cbncompass.ca/News/Local/2015-11-24/article-4352338/Councillor-calls-for-chiefs-resignation/1

‘I FEEL LIKE I’VE WALKED INTO THE TWILIGHT ZONE:’ TERMINATED SPANIARD’S BAY EMPLOYEE
http://www.cbc.ca/beta/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/steve-smith-spaniards-bay-1.3416539

EMBATTLED SPANIARD’S BAY FIREFIGHTERS RECEIVE HERO’S WELCOME AT RALLY
http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/spaniards-bay-residents-support-firefighters-resignations-1.3413303

MASS RESIGNATIONS AMID HARASSMENT SCANDAL CRIPPLE SPANIARD’S BAY FIRE DEPARTMENT
http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/spaniards-bay-brenda-seymour-harassment-1.3409859

PORN IN CLASSROOM ‘JUST FOR A LAUGH,’ FIREFIGHTING INSTRUCTOR SAYS
http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/porn-classroom-jeremy-hall-1.3413176

SPANIARD’S BAY MAYOR SAYS TOWN ‘WILL MOVE FORWARD’ AFTER HARASSMENT RUCKUS
http://www.cbc.ca/beta/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/spaniards-bay-council-meeting-1.3417288

TRAINER WHO PLAYED PORN VIDEO REPLACED AS FIRE CHIEF
http://www.cbncompass.ca/News/Local/2016-01-25/article-4414864/Trainer-who-played-porn-video-replaced-as-fire-chief/1

WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW ABOUT WORKPLACE HARASSMENT?
http://www.dol.gov/oasam/programs/crc/2011-workplace-harassment.htm

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