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Spaniard’s Bay council apologizes to female firefighter

Jan. 26, 2016, St. John's - A Newfoundland and Labrador town that made international headlines over sexual harassment allegations apologized Tuesday to its only female firefighter, attempting to put the ugly dispute behind it

"We've got to pick ourselves up out of the ashes,'' said Tony Menchions, mayor of Spaniard's Bay in southeastern Newfoundland.

"We've got a lot of rebuilding to do.''

A news release Tuesday signed by Menchions apologized to firefighter Brenda Seymour. She is also a town councillor.

"We do not condone nor tolerate any such behaviour,'' said the statement. "As a council, we have adopted a zero tolerance policy on harassment of any kind and shall ensure that all town workers and volunteers operate in a safe, respectful and inclusive environment.''

In an interview, Menchions paused when asked if the town could have handled the matter differently before long-simmering tensions blew up.

"Hindsight is a great thing,'' he said. "If there's things we could have done differently in the past, possibly, but we are where we are. We have to move forward.''

Seymour unleashed an uproar this month with harassment allegations that included pornography shown during firefighter training almost two years ago.

The Bay de Grave Regional Fire Services Board confirmed Monday that Bay de Grave regional fire chief Jeremy Hall had been replaced. He was removed as chief and as a provincially approved safety trainer in connection with an explicit porn clip shown at the end of a 2014 session for volunteer firefighters in nearby Spaniard's Bay.

It was one of several alleged incidents Seymour publicly described of sexual harassment and discrimination.

Growing internal rancour peaked last week as most of the volunteer fire brigade resigned in support of its council liaison, who also quit. It was all part of a rift that has split the town of 2,700 people.

Spaniard's Bay is now accepting applications from past and present members to rebuild its fire service from scratch, Menchions said.

"Council promises a safe and respectful environment and supports gender equity,'' said his statement.

In the meantime, the nearby Bay Roberts Fire Department is standing by as first responder for Spaniard's Bay.

Even as Menchions made the apology, Ross Snow, a 13-year veteran of the town's fire department who was among those who resigned, dissected the fracas on Facebook.

Snow, who most recently served as first captain, described multiple internal conflicts involving Seymour. He said they ranged from her complaints over training funds to personality clashes.

Seymour could not be reached Tuesday for comment.

Snow concludes by saying that all key players in the dispute – including Seymour and her husband Martin, also a firefighter, and former fire chief Victor Hiscock – should step aside until all allegations are resolved.

"Allow the firefighters to assume their roles and provide much needed service, and council to resume their roles and run our beautiful town accordingly.''

Pam Parsons, the provincial Liberal member for the local district of Harbour Grace-Port de Grave, said it's crucial to clear the air.

"The world is watching Spaniard's Bay right now,'' she said in an interview. "It is a very serious issue. Everybody deserves to work and train in a safe, respectful and inclusive work environment.''

Municipal Affairs Minister Eddie Joyce said his department in no way pressured the town to apologize to Seymour.

"We're anxious to help the town out, and the town is very anxious for us to be part of it all,'' he said in an interview.

"There's no doubt it was a shadow over our province,'' he said of the media coverage. "But on the other hand, many fire departments ... put their lives on the line on a daily basis.

"Many have females in the department, and many work well together.''

January 26, 2016 
By The Canadian Press

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