Winnipeg's mayor is calling on the president of the city's firefighters' union to address and acknowledge the existence of systemic racism, after an investigation found that racism within the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service played a role in delaying patient's transport.
It has been two days since Mayor Brian Bowman and WFPS Chief John Lane spoke publicly regarding the findings of a report outing racism within the department.
A source told CTV News Winnipeg the firefighters involved in the incident are on administrative leave.
Bowman said he has now written to Alex Forrest, the president of the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg (UFFW), expressing concern that the union official has not publicly addressed racism.
"I have asked Mr. Forrest, as President of the UFFW, to join the City of Winnipeg in its public efforts and speak out today to acknowledge the existence of systemic racism within the UFFW and to demonstrate what measures the UFFW has taken to date to address such issues," Bowman said in a written statement released Friday afternoon.
"In our city, our community has expectations for emergency services and the level of service that is provided to each person who lives here. That level of expectation has been challenged and we need, as leaders, to be accountable and work together to fix this."
During a news conference, Bowman was asked if the firefighters involved in the incident should be fired, but did not directly answer.
“Based on the publicly reported information, I’ve got pretty strong views on this, but as mayor, I have a duty to respect the processes, especially disciplinary processes that are set out in things like the collective agreement,” he said. “What I want to see is discipline occur in accordance with due process and those governing parameters, including the parameters set out in the collective agreement, which include the ability for a hearing as part of that process.”
In an online statement, Forrest said the UFFW would not make any statements “until all of the issues and information is addressed, and the disciplinary meetings have concluded.”
“Unlike the mayor, we will respond at the appropriate time in a professional manner so that it does not prejudice the ability of our members to defend themselves from these accusations,” the statement reads. “We will be defending our members to the fullest extent possible and we believe that our members will be vindicated.”
Forrest said racism, whether “overt or innate,” is a serious issue and said the union was working for years to ensure there is no discrimination or prejudice in the WFPS before the city put policies in place to prevent systemic racism.
“Our members and our department have been tried and convicted before the full facts were dealt with,” Forrest wrote.
After the statement from Forrest was read to Bowman during the conference, the mayor said it is good he is speaking about the issue of systemic racism.
“What I’m urging him and, quite frankly, urging leaders throughout our community within the City of Winnipeg workforce, is to really acknowledge that systemic racism exists, because it needs to be said, and it needs to be said often,” Bowman said. “Secondly, we also need to discuss what each of us are doing within our areas of responsibility to address it."