Opinion

A leaked internal report this week into the conduct of four Winnipeg firefighters showed evidence of “implicit racial bias” against an Indigenous woman and “racial animus” towards a paramedic (also a person of colour) on a call in October 2020.

A leaked internal report this week into the conduct of four Winnipeg firefighters showed evidence of "implicit racial bias" against an Indigenous woman and "racial animus" towards a paramedic (also a person of colour) on a call in October 2020.

The report is clear: identifying the actions of the firefighters put the woman’s health at risk, delayed her journey to the hospital, and showed callous disregard for her safety. One firefighter riding in the ambulance refused to help the paramedic, forcing the injured woman to hold the dressing to the stab wound on her own neck.

Later, one of them called it: "Just another call in the North End."

According to the report, it was part of "retaliation" against the paramedic, who previously alleged racist conduct by members of the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service — including one of the firefighters involved, who called him a "sand n-----."

Despite this information, WFPS Chief John Lane announced during a news conference Thursday: "The investigator concluded that explicit anti-Indigenous racism did not play a role in the care of the patient… There may have been implicit bias."

Um, no.

While it’s clear the firefighters involved don’t like "rats" (the term they used in the report) airing their systemic and racist dirty laundry, it’s equally clear if this patient was a non-Indigenous person in Charleswood no one would have had to try to stop their own neck wound from bleeding.

This isn’t playing the "race card," giving an "opinion," or anything but a cold, hard truth: racism exists in the WFPS and it’s not just four firefighters.

Proof resides in the fact all four continued in active duty as if nothing had happened, even after the independent investigator's report was handed to Lane and the WFPS weeks ago.

WFPS Chief John Lane announced during a news conference Thursday: “The investigator concludled that explicit anti-Indigenous racism did not play a role in the care of the patient… There may have been implicit bias.”

JOHN WOODS / FREE PRESS FILES

WFPS Chief John Lane announced during a news conference Thursday: “The investigator concludled that explicit anti-Indigenous racism did not play a role in the care of the patient… There may have been implicit bias.”

On Thursday, days after the Winnipeg Free Press broke the story and public outcry rained down on the WFPS, all four were put on "administrative leave."

There’s nothing "implicit" about that racism, nor is bias "implicit" when you know what you have done is racist. The investigator found the firefighters conspired to fabricate stories and obstruct the probe into their conduct, as well as participated in harassment and threats against the paramedic.

That paramedic is now "on leave," after swearing at the firefighters during that October call. The action brought him charges of breaching workplace safety policies, which the report found him guilty of, but stated: "While unacceptable, should be contexualized."

Who was assaulted and punished here? Who was protected and rewarded?

There is absolutely, positively, and definitively nothing "implicit" about this situation. Everyone involved knew fully what they were doing.

There is absolutely, positively, and definitively nothing “implicit” about this situation. Everyone involved knew fully what they were doing.

In a statement Tuesday to the Free Press, Lane admits "issues of racism exist in the organization" and "there is no tolerance for racism or discrimination based on any human rights characteristics among (WFPS) employees, any City of Winnipeg employees or with any members of the public."

At a news conference Thursday, Mayor Brian Bowman noted "anti-racism" training will be mandatory for all city employees, beginning in March.

This is a good step, but isn’t enough.

"Implicit bias" never goes away until it’s made explicit.

It’s not enough to talk about it. Take action — identifying, recognizing, and addressing racism and discrimination in whatever form it takes.

If done immediately, the outcomes don’t have to be so drastic as people losing jobs, being exposed publicly, and using words like "rats" and "n-----."

It can be done with kindness, care, and consideration. Ask people to have empathy, learn about privilege and their part in violence. None of this harms anyone, but instead demands hard, honest, and serious self-reflection.

"Cultural awareness" training won’t cure racism. Look at the WFPS chief. He’s aware of racism, but apparently lets racists work without interruption while letting those who report on racism be harassed and attacked.

Awareness maintains the status quo.

“Cultural awareness” training won’t cure racism. Look at the WFPS chief. He’s aware of racism, but apparently lets racists work without interruption while letting those who report on racism be harassed and attacked.

What we need is action: honesty, bravery, and a tangible commitment to the principle no one is born racist but is conditioned into holding racist views.

We need to accept racism is in every part of society, from firefighters and paramedics to police officers and politicians, and this doesn’t make us weaker but stronger for having realized this truth.

We need training that will affirm those who stand up against racism and help those who hold racist views get opportunities to change their actions and make restitution. We also need to have patience with those confronting their own racism, too.

We also need to get this paramedic his job back. He is exactly the kind of person I want dealing with an emergency.

We need to stop hiding behind words like "implicit bias" and be explicit.

niigaan.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

Niigaan Sinclair

Niigaan Sinclair
Columnist

Niigaan Sinclair is Anishinaabe and is a columnist at the Winnipeg Free Press.

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