‘I’m Speaking Out:’ Calgary Firefighters Allege Decades of Racism

Of note:

When Chris Coy became Calgary’s first Black firefighter 25 years ago, his heroic vision of the profession was almost immediately upended.

First, he said, during training he was hazed more than his colleagues, strapped to a stretcher against his will and repeatedly doused with a fire hose. Then there were the co-workers who ostracized him at lunch. Throughout his career, he said, fellow firefighters used a racial slur directed at Black people.

For years, Mr. Coy said he suffered in silence as he feared speaking out would mean dismissal, or, worse, other firefighters not shielding him from danger in the field.

But since retiring in December, Mr. Coy has begun speaking publicly about what he said was decades of racially motived physical and verbal abuse, joining a group of current and former firefighters who have been voicing similar grievances. The city’s mayor and fire chief have acknowledged the racism within the department and pledged to address it.

“Here in Canada we are proud and sometimes smug about our commitment to diversity,” Naheed Nenshi, Calgary’s mayor, said in an interview. “I don’t want anyone who gets a paycheck I sign to feel that they aren’t valued because of the color of their skin.”

In Canada, a country that prides itself on its liberal humanism and multiculturalism, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made reconciling with Indigenous peoples an early priority of his premiership. Now, the country has been undergoing a national reckoning about institutional racism in its city halls, law enforcement and cultural institutions, particularly since the global uprising for Black rights spurred by last year’s police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Brenda Lucki, the chief of Canada’s storied national police force, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, was recently forced to walk back her previous denials of systemic racism within the force. Mr. Trudeau was among those arguing that police forces across the country were grappling with systemic racism.

While there have been complaints of discrimination in other fire departments in Canada, Calgary has become a high-profile case. The accusations of racism at the fire department were first reported by the CBC, the national broadcaster.

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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