October 17, 2017

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I wanted to apologize: chief

Testimony differs from 2016 statement after paramedics filed grievance

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Chief John Lane, the subject of a workplace complaint by 156 EMS paramedics in 2016, is testifying at an arbitration hearing about how he handled the complaint.</p></p>

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Chief John Lane, the subject of a workplace complaint by 156 EMS paramedics in 2016, is testifying at an arbitration hearing about how he handled the complaint.

The head of the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service offered Thursday a startlingly different recollection of his reaction to a respectful workplace complaint, compared to what he told an external human resources investigator in the spring of 2016.

Chief John Lane testified at an arbitration hearing he was “horrified” to learn 156 EMS paramedics had filed a complaint after a presentation he had made at a firefighters conference in August 2015, and his immediate intention was to apologize to them.

“When I saw the complaint, I was horrified,” Lane told arbitrator Arne Peltz, adding he immediately told the WFPS human resources officer it was his intention to “apologize as quickly as possible.” Lane said he was prevented from apologizing because of the complaint process and he felt he had to allow it to take its course.

However, the report of Pamela Clark — who had been hired by the City of Winnipeg to investigate the case — revealed Lane strenuously disputed the paramedics' complaints from the outset. According to the report, Lane dismissed them as an attempt by the local union executive to stir up the membership against him and undermine efforts to promote what he said was the successes of an emergency medical services model that relies on traditional paramedics and firefighters trained as paramedics.

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The head of the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service offered Thursday a startlingly different recollection of his reaction to a respectful workplace complaint, compared to what he told an external human resources investigator in the spring of 2016.

Chief John Lane testified at an arbitration hearing he was "horrified" to learn 156 EMS paramedics had filed a complaint after a presentation he had made at a firefighters conference in August 2015, and his immediate intention was to apologize to them.

"When I saw the complaint, I was horrified," Lane told arbitrator Arne Peltz, adding he immediately told the WFPS human resources officer it was his intention to "apologize as quickly as possible." Lane said he was prevented from apologizing because of the complaint process and he felt he had to allow it to take its course.

However, the report of Pamela Clark — who had been hired by the City of Winnipeg to investigate the case — revealed Lane strenuously disputed the paramedics' complaints from the outset. According to the report, Lane dismissed them as an attempt by the local union executive to stir up the membership against him and undermine efforts to promote what he said was the successes of an emergency medical services model that relies on traditional paramedics and firefighters trained as paramedics.

"I consider the allegations to be contrived and promulgated by the executives of MGEU Local 911," Lane stated in his response to Clarke’s inquiries. "If my actions have truly offended anyone, I will apologize to them unreservedly. However, I believe that at its core, this complaint is a cynical and vexatious use of the respectful workplace policy."

The hearing — which began Wednesday and is set to conclude Friday — is dealing with a grievance filed in September 2015 by the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union Local 911 over Lane’s involvement in the preparation of an inflammatory conference summary that criticized the paramedics, Lane’s reaction to the respectful workplace complaint filed by the paramedics, and what the union says is the city’s failure to act on the findings of the investigation.

Lane was hired as chief of the WFPS in April 2014. He had previously been chief of the Prince George, B.C., fire department and had worked as a paramedic and ambulance attendant for a private firm in the Hamilton, Ont., area from 1981 to 1995.

The paramedics' workplace complaint was largely upheld by Clarke over a year ago, who concluded in a written report Lane's actions had contributed to a workplace conflict. However, Lane did not issue an apology to the paramedics for several months after Clarke had submitted her report.

Clarke was critical of Lane’s participation at the international firefighters conference in August 2015 in Maryland, finding he should not have made his presentation when it had been billed in such an insulting manner towards the paramedics.

MGEU counsel Keith Labossiere had told the hearing Winnipeg city hall had failed to take any action to address the paramedics' workplace complaint and said Lane's apology was too late, inadequate and not credible.

The MGEU wants Peltz to find city hall at fault and award damages to the union, its executive and the paramedics who had signed the complaint.

The contradiction between Lane's testimony Thursday and his statements to Clarke in the spring of 2016 will likely be the focus of cross-examination Friday morning by MGEU counsel.

Also Thursday, deputy fire chief Christian Schmidt said the city decided to hire Clarke in an attempt to "establish the facts" of the paramedics' respectful workplace complaint.

The afternoon resumption of the hearing was delayed by 90 minutes, as counsel for the union and city hall met several times, sometimes with Peltz, in what some speculated was an unsuccessful attempt to resolve the grievance before Lane testified.

Lane testified he was on vacation for much of the time between when Clarke had submitted her report to city hall in July 2016 and when he issued an apology in November 2016, saying he had not time to do it sooner. 

He said his original intention was to issue an apology to the paramedics in a video statement to be distributed to all members of the WFPS, but the proposal was rejected by city hall's corporate communications department.

Lane said the apology ultimately issued to the paramedics had been written entirely by himself and was a sincere attempt to resolve the dispute with them, adding however he realizes the apology alone won't heal the rift.

"I don't for a second believe that a simple, worded statement is enough to heal the offence that had occurred," Lane said. "Is it enough to fully repair the damage done? No. Is it a full and forthright apology, without conditions? Yes. I made commitments in (the apology) to make every attempt in future to move forward in a collaborative fashion."

On the hearing's first day, Troy Reidy, an advanced care paramedic employed by the WFPS and a vice-president of MGEU Local 911, testified Lane has consistently belittled and undervalued the contributions of the EMS paramedics – before the August conference and he continued to do so after the complaint was filed – and he constantly dismisses their concerns over some aspects of the dual role of the firefighter paramedics provision of ambulance service.

Reidy said the union and the paramedics are also troubled by what they see as Lane's close relationship with the president of the local firefighters union.

Lane said that all his expenses to attend the firefighters conference in Maryland, including hotel and daily per diem, had been provided by the firefighters international union.

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

Read more by Aldo Santin .

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History

Updated on Friday, October 13, 2017 at 8:15 AM CDT: Updates

9:47 AM: Updates headline, photo

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