Four Winnipeg firefighters implicated in a 2020 racist incident in which they refused to help treat an Indigenous woman and delayed her transportation to hospital have been removed from active duty.
The firefighters at the centre of the controversy — which sparked a third-party investigation and outrage from Indigenous leaders — were placed on administrative leave Thursday evening, three sources with knowledge of the situation told the Free Press.
The move came one day after Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman and Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service Chief John Lane held a joint news conference to address the findings of a damning external report leaked this week to media.
An independent probe concluded there was a failure to provide proper medical care to a 23-year-old Indigenous woman who had stabbed herself in the throat, and ensure timely transportation to the hospital, during an Oct. 7, 2020 call in the North End.
The investigator concluded the firefighters were guilty of ignoring the instructions of a WFPS paramedic, who was the chief medical authority at the scene. They failed to prioritize patient care, delayed transportation to the hospital, and then colluded to obstruct the probe into their conduct, the report said.
Those actions, the investigator said, were likely motivated by a combination of "implicit racial bias" against the patient and "racial animus" against the paramedic, who is also a person of colour.
In addition, the report said, the firefighters were likely retaliating against the paramedic, who was known to have filed prior complaints about racism within the WFPS, including against one of the firefighters attending the Oct. 7 call.
The details of the incident first came to light after the paramedic sent an email complaint to Lane. The City of Winnipeg then hired an outside consulting firm, Equitable Solutions, to investigate the matter.
The paramedic in question is currently off work. The third-party report found him guilty of breaching respectful workplace policies on the call, after he swore at and insulted one of the firefighters.
During the joint news conference Wednesday, neither Bowman nor Lane would say what disciplinary action, if any, would be taken against the firefighters.
Lane said such details were "not a matter for public discussion."
The Free Press later reported the firefighters continued to be dispatched on medical calls, even after the final report into the case was finalized and its findings were brought to the attention of top department brass.
The Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union, which represents Winnipeg paramedics, has said the findings of the independent investigation should serve as a "wake-up call" for the city, about the need to address deep-rooted issues within the WFPS.
The United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg union has yet to publicly address the findings of the investigation into its members. One of the implicated firefighters sits on the executive of the UFFW.
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.