KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – A little over a year ago, on Monday December 18, 2017, Halifax Fire Chief Ken Stuebing publicly apologized (sort of) to Liane Tessier for the horrific systemic gender discrimination she was subjected to as a volunteer firefighter with Halifax Fire.
Tessier was bullied and harassed by city managers and male colleagues, and had to fight both the City and the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission. It took her well over a decade to be vindicated and find some kind of closure.
Tessier’s settlement spells out several conditions that must Halifax Fire must meet, things like human rights education for staff and management, reviews of the complaints process and harassment policies, the establishment of equitable hiring panels, and so on. The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission (NSHRC) role in all this is to ensure the settlement has teeth.
But if you wonder what has changed at Halifax Fire over the last year, you’re not alone.
Even Tessier herself has no idea what’s been happening at Halifax Fire as a result of her settlement. Nobody at the NSHRC or Halifax Fire bothers to keep her in the loop.
“The Human Rights Commission was supposed to be responsible for overseeing the changes, but I haven’t seen any evidence of any change, and I think the public should know,” Tessier says.
She got a bit of an inkling of what was to come at the time of the apology. One of the settlement conditions was a healing circle, with Tessier, the Human Rights Commission and Stuebing and other Halifax Fire managers.
Things at that healing circle quickly got awkward.
“I voiced my frustrations about having to wait 12 years to settle my case, I mentioned other women’s stories, it took three hours. They sat there with blank faces, didn’t take any notes, didn’t ask any questions, showed no interest. But if you don’t want to understand how processes have failed in the past, how can you achieve better results in the future,” says Tessier.
“I talked about misogyny, how are you going to enable women to speak out? How are you going to educate yourselves about sexism? How are you going to make these policies more effective for women? How are you going to deal with the attitudes that are still there? But that was all too much for them to get their heads around, and that is where I could have helped,” Tessier says.
About the lack of communication coming from Halifax Fire and the Human RIghts Commission Tessier has this to say.
“I think I spoke out at a moment in time when a lot of women were feeling the same way, that’s why I got so many support messages from all across Canada. My case legitimized their struggle, it wasn’t just in their heads anymore, there is a real problem of misogyny in those workplaces and it is about time people woke up to that reality.
“We’re dealing with issues that were hidden, now we are letting it out of the bag and HRM and the NS Human Rights Commission don’t like it, because now they are being held to account,” Tessier says, pointing to the work of Equity Watch, the anti-bullying organization she co-founded.
On December 28 we contacted Deputy Fire Chief Phil McNulty, listed as the designated media contact, to find out what’s been happening at Halifax Fire in terms of the action items set out in the Tessier settlement. He never got back to us.
You’d think that after the Tessier debacle Halifax Fire would be eager to tell the world about the changes they made, but apparently not.
We also asked the NS Human RIghts Commission, who were only slightly more forthcoming.
“All items listed in (settlement sections) 9-14 have commenced and are ongoing. The Commission has been working closely with (Halifax Fire) and they have been very cooperative,” writes Jeff Overmars, spokesperson for the NS Human Rights Commission.
If you want to know more you should ask Halifax Fire, Overmars suggests.