‘I’m Speaking Out:’ Calgary Firefighters Allege Decades of Racism

‘I’m Speaking Out:’ Calgary Firefighters Allege Decades of Racism

When Chris Coyle became Calgary’s first black firefighter 25 years ago, his valor about his profession increased almost immediately.

At first, he stated that during training, he was favored more than his colleagues, taken to the stretcher against his will and repeatedly submerged with a fire hose. Then there were the coworkers, who instigated him at lunch. Throughout his career, he said, fellow firefighters used a racial slur directed at black people.

Over the years, Mr. Coy said he faced silence because he feared speaking out would mean dismissal, or worse, other firefighters would not save him from danger in the field.

But since retiring in December, Mr. Coy has started speaking publicly about what he said for decades about racially motivated physical and verbal abuse of current and former firefighters. Joining a group who are raising similar complaints. The city’s mayor and fire chief has acknowledged racism within the department and pledged to address it.

“In here Canada We are proud and sometimes smug about our commitment to diversity. Nahid Nenshi, Mayor of Calgary, Said in an interview. “I don’t want anyone who receives a salary to feel that they are not valuable because of the color of their skin.”

In Canada, a country that is proud of its liberal humanism and multiculturalism, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reconciled with indigenous people which was an early priority of his premier. Now, the country is discussing national level about institutional racism in itself. City Hall, Law enforcement and Cultural George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis last year after a global revolt for institutions, especially black rights.

Canada’s premier national police force, Brenda Lucky, chief of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, was recently forced out Walk back to his previous denials Of Systemic racism Within the force. Mr. Trudeau was among the arguments that led police forces across the country to struggle with systemic racism.

While discrimination complaints have been received in other fire departments in Canada, Calgary has become a high-profile case. The fire department was accused of racism for the first time by national broadcaster CBC.

Mr. Nenshi She said that when Calgary developed into one of Canada’s most diverse cities, people of color and women were weakly depicted in the fire department. Of the 1,400 firefighters in the department, he said, only 40 were women; The city does not track minority numbers.

The department has conducted two internal reviews of workplace culture that have not been made public; The mayor cited the need for employee confidentiality. On Wednesday, Mayor spokesman Adam Noble-Johnson said an internal investigation into racism was also underway.

Calgary’s fire chief, Steve Dongworth, said in an interview that he was proud that the fire department had counted Mr. Coe within its ranks and stressed that all allegations of racism, bullying and sexism were thoroughly investigated was. He declined to comment on personal complaints.

“I have to accept that we live in a society where racism and sexism exist and it extends to the Calgary Fire Department,” he said. “We are a predominantly Caucasian male department and we are trying to change that.”

Alberta, an oil and cattle center in the west of the country, has long been billed as “Texas of Canada”. It is a province where socially conservative political parties dominate and where the highlight of the year is annual. Calgary Stampede, The world’s largest outdoor rodeo.

But decades of migration have changed the social fabric and politics of Calgary, Alberta’s largest city, which elected a Muslim mayor a decade ago. According to City Hall, approximately one-third of the city’s residents today are black, people of color, or indigenous.

Mr. Coy said tensions between old and new Alberta had boiled over racism in Canada’s third-largest fire department, where he said, the culture of nepotism still dominated.

This summer, after thousands of antagonists took to the streets of Calgary, the city held a three-day public hearing on the issue of local systemic racism.

Among those testifying was Shannon Pennington, an experienced firefighter. He described an episode of a decade earlier, when a large pink panther stuffed toy was littered with black shoe polish on his face and hands, and a rope around his neck from Calgary’s fire station drawers. Was hung together. 5. Was wearing a toy. Uniform related to a black firefighter.

“It was a joke,” Mr. Coy said as he counseled the black firefighter. “I was angry, but the victim didn’t want to do anything because she feared backlash.” The alleged victim did not return phone calls.

Elder Dorrance Spence, 83, an Indigenous nurse who pacifies minority firefighters, also testified about the case of Barry Dawson, an Indigenous firefighter who rose to the rank of captain and who at the age of 47 in November 2017 Took my own life. Spence, who had dinner with Mr. Dawson the night before he died, said in an interview that he had repeatedly told her about her hair, which she wore to honor her culture.

“He told me he had PTSD from his job, and the constant bullying and verbal abuse exacerbated it,” she said in an interview. (The fire department said that Mr. Dawson was asked, during training, to cut his hair according to the rules, but was later allowed to wear them for a longer period of time).

Following the hearing, a group of current and former minority firefighters led by Mr Coy wrote a letter to Chief Dongworth, stating that he had encountered an “extremely toxic” environment at work.

“We have been humiliated, humiliated, humiliated, defamed, underestimated, ignored, verbally and physically assaulted,” the letter said.

He made nine demands, including demanding the formation of an independent body to investigate workplace misconduct.

While firefighters are respected throughout the world as heroes, Carrie Edwards-Clemons, President of International Association of Black Professional Firefighters, Reflected issues in Calgary A global challenge A profession is dominated by a white old boys network.

“The difference now is that the world is paying attention and people are saying that enough is enough, enough is enough.” Said Ms. Edwards-Clemons, who is Flint’s deputy head of Michigan’s fire department.

In Canada, Chris Coy said he was determined that fraternities in fire departments fall out of the shadows.

The son of Jamaican immigrants, who immigrated to Canada in the ’60s, Mr. Coy, 60, previously taught English literature to college students. As a firefighter, he went to the scene of a deadly explosion at an oil recycling plant, rescued children with a neck stuck in a playground and worked on a recovery team that took out carcasses from the river.

He said that racism in the department was never below the surface. If the fire station was playing basketball on television, they said co-workers would say, “Why are we watching the N-word ball?”

Even after training, he said, he was barred by superiors from participating in fire emergency situations with no explanation.

In 2013, he stated that he was promoted as captain of a station near Calgary’s airport on the basis of seniority. His colleagues stopped using racial slurry in front of him, he said, but he would still listen to them using it.

Retired Calgary firefighter Enver Amy with Middle Eastern roots said he did not consider himself a visible minority member until he started working for the department.

As a young recruit, he said, other firefighters called him a “snake charger”, a “turban twister” and “a sand n-word”.

“People asked if I ate the sand lizard,” he said, adding that he was selected for monthly tasks such as rubbing the walls of the station. He said that physical abuse was carried out, including spitting and wet rags thrown at him. When he complained to the superiors, he said that they laughed.

After he was made captain in 2010, he said he regularly faced insults from other firefighters. “I was the person in charge of emergencies, so if people disobeyed or walked away, it was dangerous for the public and other respondents.”

After a junior employee, who refused to obey her orders, complained about her to the firefighter’s union, he said, he was abruptly suspended by the department without cause. He said he was eventually offered a $ 17,500 settlement from the city, which he declined and lost at least $ 200,000 on salary. Disturbed, he retired in 2016.

“I’m speaking to prevent this from happening again,” he said.



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