KJIPUKUK (Halifax) – Two veteran women firefighters, employed for years by the Halifax Fire Service, expressed their shock and anger at the recent decision by the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission (NSHRC).
Kathy Symington, and Liane Tessier both had their original complaints of gender discrimination and harassment dismissed by the NSHRC. On Tuesday the two women spoke at a press conference at Province House.
Symington, an experienced firefighter, joined the Halifax Fire Service 20 years ago — in 1997. She was one of five female firefighters on the force. Not only was she verbally and physically harassed, she was the subject of lies (for instance that she was sleeping with male firefighters), innuendo and subject to violence and threats by colleagues.
“My car was vandalized three times; the sexual rumours went around and I could not stop them from demeaning me; in addition the bosses and the co-workers set up a totally poisoned work environment,” said Symington.
After filing a complaint with the NSHRC in 2002, it took until 2006 for the Commission to tell her that her complaint had been “discontinued “– or dismissed — no reasons given.
In 2013-13, she filed another complaint of discrimination on the basis of disability, sex discrimination and retaliation. Four years later, in 2018, the Commission told her it would only recommend proceeding on one of her complaints – that she was denied top-up pay while she was on maternity leave. But there were more than 100 incidents of harassment and discrimination on the record, and the Commission decided not to investigate them, or act on them.
Liane Tessier, who won her case at the NSHRC in Dec. 2017, spoke about the fact that systemic discrimination was at the heart of the problems in the Fire Service. “In December, the Fire Chief and HRM publicly apologized to me and to all women affected because of systemic gender discrimination in the Fire Service. There were recommendations for changes but we have no knowledge that any of the recommendations were implemented. Kathy Symington’s case mirrors mine – the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission should be looking at her case in light of mine, and go after the Fire Service and HRM on the basis of systemic gender discrimination – but they are only looking at one small incident.”
“This is an insult to all women who face systemic gender discrimination,” notes Tessier.
On Sept. 20 and 21, the Commission’s CEO meets with the 10 appointed Commissioners in Digby. It is there that they will decide which cases to send to a Board of Inquiry and which cases to dismiss. Kathy Symington is demanding the Commission look at her entire case, all 100 plus incidents, not just the one about maternity top-up.
“I’ve waited 16 years for justice,” Symington said. “The Commission is not accountable and not listening. I deserve to have my case properly investigated.”
Liane Tessier and Judy Haiven are founding members of Equity Watch, an organization dedicated to fighting discrimination and bullying in the workplace.
For more information on the Symington case and Equity Watch, contact Judy Haiven (902) 718-7445 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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