KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Spaniard’s Bay headline making news about harassment, intimidation and sexism at a small town Newfoundland fire department is truly appalling.
Equally disturbing is to see a large part of the community siding with the perpetrators rather than with Brenda Seymour, the courageous firefighter who fought back and spoke out publicly.
An eerily similar case that unfolded in Halifax, Nova Scotia well over a decade ago never gained the kind of exposure of Spaniard’s Bay is receiving at the moment.
Yet there are many parallels between the two cases.
Liane Tessier, like Seymour, was an ambitious volunteer firefighter who says she met nothing but pushback and retaliation from the station chief on down at the male-dominated Herring Cove fire station.
And, again similar to Seymour’s case, she was ignored by Halifax Fire and the municipality. When Tessier used formal channels to raise the alarm about the harassment and unfair treatment nobody listened.
And, in final parallel, some of Tessier’s female co-workers found it difficult to publicly support her.
“It’s kind of getting me a bit upset, it brings back so many memories” Tessier tells the Nova Scotia Advocate. “It is appalling. It is so tough to be the only woman to speak out, you get attacked so quickly, They call you a troublemaker, and they suggest that you are running a vendetta.”
Tessier ended up taking her case to the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission.
This is where Tessier’s case really takes an odd turn.
After sitting on the investigation for five years and doing mostly nothing, the Human Rights Commission dismissed her case. Seven different Human Rights officers were assigned to her case over that time.
Most would have given up at that time. Not Tessier though. She appealed the dismissal.
In February of last year the Nova Scotia Supreme Court agreed with her. The Court ordered a new investigation.
Justice Arthur LeBlanc quashed the original dismissal, and in a precedent-setting decision awarded damages to Tessier. Key witnesses were not heard, there were numerous delays, and investigators showed bias against Tessier throughout, LeBlanc concluded in May of 2014.
The Human Rights Commission is once again determining whether to proceed with a hearing or to dismiss Tessier’s case. Tessier was recently able to hire a lawyer, but she is up against HRM and all its financial and legal resources.
The preliminary investigation will lead to either dismissal or a Board of Inquiry.
Tessier wants the public hearings a Board of Inquiry entails, and expects to know more in April of this year. Mediation is of no interest to her.
“You shouldn’t have to work so hard as a woman to have your claims taken seriously,” she says.
Click here to find out more about Tessier’s case and maybe even make a much-needed donation to help with legal costs.
You can contact Liane Tessier via her website.
Liane Tessier’s case was recently featured on the CBC’s the Fifth Estate.