The United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg is demanding the release of video footage from a critical-care call in the North End last fall that sparked allegations of racism and a third-party investigation.

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The United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg is demanding the release of video footage from a critical-care call in the North End last fall that sparked allegations of racism and a third-party investigation.

"It is clear that there is no longer a confidentiality issue, and as such, the video from the forward and rear-facing ambulance cameras needs to be released immediately," the union said in a written statement Wednesday morning, urging Mayor Brian Bowman to make the information public.

"This time-stamped video evidence will show that the firefighters in question did not fail to provide proper medical care, nor did they cause any delay in the patient’s transport to hospital."

The video footage from Oct. 7, 2020, is reportedly roughly four minutes in length. Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service crews were dispatched after a 23-year-old Indigenous woman had stabbed herself in the throat.

Following an argument at the scene, a paramedic accused two firefighters of failing to provide proper medical care to the patient and delaying transportation to hospital. The City of Winnipeg subsequently hired a third-party investigator to review the incident.

The consultant determined "implicit racial bias" against the patient and "racial animus" against the paramedic (a person of colour) likely impacted the actions of firefighters that night. The investigator's final report into the matter also concluded members of the firefighter crew conspired to lie in an effort to obstruct the probe.

Based on video evidence and witness testimony, the investigator said the patient’s transportation to the hospital was delayed by two minutes, and repeated requests for help from a paramedic were ignored by firefighters. The video was summarized in a two-page section of the final report.

The UFFW has repeatedly pushed back against those findings, vowing to defend its members throughout the city’s disciplinary process.

In the statement Wednesday, the UFFW said its efforts have been hindered by the fact additional video footage from the scene has been unavailable. Some cameras were not working and another was blocked by a paramedic jacket.

"The UFFW has always aggressively supported diversity and inclusiveness initiatives within the department and in the community. We cannot single-handedly resolve this global issue but remain absolutely committed to anti-racism solutions," the local firefighters union said.

"This incident is not an issue of racism, nor does it represent our long-standing commitment to fighting intolerance and promoting diversity within the fire service. Rather, this is fallout from a long-standing and well-reported conflict between ambulance paramedics and firefighters."

In a written response, Bowman said he would like to see UFFW president Alex Forrest publicly acknowledge the existence of systemic racism in the department. (The mayor had previously called upon the union leader to do so.)

Bowman also said he supports the release of "as much information" about the 2020 incident as possible "at the appropriate time."

"What Mr. Forrest is requesting involves addressing legal and privacy protections afforded to his members, the patient, as well as other city unions and employees. An appropriate starting point for Mr. Forrest would be providing the written, legal consents of his members to release all of their information related to this matter," Bowman said.

"Until that time, there is a confidential hearing process underway which is set out in the collective bargaining agreement. The mayor encourages Mr. Forrest to respect the process that was collectively bargained."

The Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union, which represents Winnipeg paramedics, also issued a statement in response to the UFFW demand.

"The independent third-party investigation determined, based on the evidence, that there was a delay in transport time, and an attempt to collude and cover up the events of that night. We’ll let the report speak for itself," MGEU president Michelle Gawronsky said.

"The need for an unbiased investigation of the facts is exactly why MGEU called for an investigation by an independent third party to be done in the first place."

ryan.thorpe@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @rk_thorpe

Ryan Thorpe

Ryan Thorpe
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Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.

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