Comment: November 2018

#MeToo and the fire service
October 23, 2018
Written by
The #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and assault is gaining traction around the world – and rightfully so.

Icons of sport and music, high-profile figures in the entertainment and media industries and, of course, politicians have been called out for their behaviour.

No vocation, it appears, is untouchable, including the fire service, as was noted by speakers during a session on the issue at a Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs Conference in Ottawa recently.

John Saunders, a partner at Hicks Morley Hamilton Stewart Storie LLP in Toronto, and Karen Gordon, a communications consultant who specializes in labour, crisis and legal issues, spoke candidly about the issue during a session on #MeToo and the Fire Service, and their message was crystal clear: The fire service is not immune and chiefs and departments must be ready to deal with it.

Saunders candidly warned that behaviour allowed by fire departments in the past is no longer acceptable and also that departments should now have policies in place to ensure that everyone knows sexual harassment won’t be tolerated in their departments and that the rules will be enforced.

Simply put, fire chiefs and department leaders must show they’re doing everything in their power to ensure that anyone who engages in sexual harassment of a co-worker will run into a heap of trouble.

Saunders noted that fire chiefs need to raise awareness in the workplace, provide training and encourage people to come forward if there’s a problem, and act promptly if a problem is brought to light.

Couldn’t agree more.

Fire departments need good policies that spell out specifically what entails sexual harassment and they must be enforced.

For the record, sexual harassment includes conduct of a sexual nature or course of vexatious comment or conduct that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome on the basis of sex, sexual orientation or gender identity.

As Saunders so rightly pointed out, it will be a judge or HR tribunal that rules on a case.

Fire departments must therefore ensure that any type of sexual harassment is forbidden. Arguably, an accusation against a fire department is more serious than it might be for other organizations because the fire service is expected to be above that kind of behaviour. I can’t imagine anything worse for a fire department than having a #MeToo issue come to the forefront.

Saunders made a very good point in his remarks, noting that a policy is only good if it’s enforced by the department.

“If the fire goes south, you’re responsible at the end of the day,” he told the session. “The same thing happens for this situation.”

Sounds like sage advice.
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