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Chief, union lawyer clash during questioning

Hearing about paramedics' grievance focuses on willingness to apologize

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>

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.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/10/2017 (702 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The heat was turned up on Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service (WFPS) Chief John Lane during a cross-examination at a labour arbitration hearing Friday.

During almost four hours of questioning from Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union (MGEU) Local 911 counsel Keith LaBossiere, Lane repeatedly couched his response with the refrain: everything has to be taken in context.

Lane was repeatedly evasive and had difficulty in explaining the contradictions between his testimony this week, that he always wanted to apologize to Winnipeg paramedics, and comments he made more than a year ago to a human resources lawyer hired to investigate a complaint he had breached the city's respectful workplace policy.

“Offence occurs in the eyes of the beholder,” Lane told LaBossiere on why he had changed his willingness to apologize to the paramedics.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/10/2017 (702 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The heat was turned up on Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service (WFPS) Chief John Lane during a cross-examination at a labour arbitration hearing Friday.

During almost four hours of questioning from Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union (MGEU) Local 911 counsel Keith LaBossiere, Lane repeatedly couched his response with the refrain: everything has to be taken in context.

Lane was repeatedly evasive and had difficulty in explaining the contradictions between his testimony this week, that he always wanted to apologize to Winnipeg paramedics, and comments he made more than a year ago to a human resources lawyer hired to investigate a complaint he had breached the city's respectful workplace policy.

"Offence occurs in the eyes of the beholder," Lane told LaBossiere on why he had changed his willingness to apologize to the paramedics.

"This is the whole point, Mr. Lane," LaBossiere fired back. "What you have been doing is saying, ‘I will apologize if they are offended,’ as opposed to ‘I am apologizing because I offended you.’ You are not prepared to acknowledge that you are offensive."

"I disagree," Lane replied.

Lane was unable to clearly explain why he had testified he was prepared in September 2015 to apologize to the 156 paramedics who had filed a respectful workplace complaint against him, but weeks later told an investigator he would only apologize if it was shown he had done something wrong.

The back-and-forth between Lane and LaBossiere occurred on the third day of the hearing dealing with a grievance filed in September 2015 by MGEU Local 911 over Lane’s involvement in the preparation of a conference summary to a presentation for an international firefighters conference in Maryland in August 2015 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.

On Friday, more than three dozen paramedics filled the conference room of a downtown law firm where the hearing was held.

Lane's superior, Michael Jack, the City of Winnipeg chief corporate services officer, was also in room for most of the day, as was MGEU provincial president Michelle Gawronsky.

The paramedics' workplace complaint had been largely upheld by an external human rights investigator, who concluded in a written report in July 2016 that Lane's actions had contributed to a workplace conflict, but Lane did not issue an apology to the paramedics until November of that year.

The union said in its complaint city hall had failed to take any action to address the issue and said Lane's apology was too late, inadequate and not credible.

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

Lane agreed the wording of the conference summary had been offensive and insulting to the paramedics and their union, but he testified he decided he wouldn't issue an apology because he wasn't convinced all 156 paramedics were genuinely offended. He said he believed the union had fanned the controversy and he needed to be convinced by the investigator's report.

Lane repeatedly said he could not recall statements attributed to him by the human resources investigator and other individuals.

The hearing revealed the huge level of mistrust between Lane and the 350 EMS paramedics employed in his department.

Only three individuals testified at the three-day event: Lane, WFPS deputy chief Christian Schmidt and Troy Reidy, a veteran advanced-care paramedic and vice-president of Local 911.

Reidy testified Lane had consistently belittled and undervalued the contributions of the EMS paramedics — both before the August 2015 conference and after the complaint was filed — and dismissed their concerns over some aspects of the dual role of the job.

Several of the exchanges between LaBossiere and Lane were intense.

When Lane said he didn't trust the Local 911 executive and refused to deal with them, LaBossiere repeatedly challenged Lane to demonstrate the leadership qualities expected of an individual in his position.

"You said the reason you have a different relationship (compared to the firefighters) is because you do not trust the Local 911 executive," LaBossiere said. "What I'm suggesting to you is there is any easy way to deal with that: you can put your big-boy pants on and you can say, 'I'm trying to rebuild this relationship.' And you've chosen not to do that."

Lane said his mistrust of the union executive was the result of their concerns with several aspects of care being provided by the firefighter/paramedics. Lane said he believed the union executive were determined to undermine the dual-role model. 

LaBossiere told the hearing the union had drafted an apology for Lane to sign and distribute to its members last month, with the expectation it could resolve the dispute without the need for the hearing. However, Lane refused to sign.

"These are clearly not my words," the chief said. "How can that be seen to be a sincere apology from me if it's clearly not written by me?"

While LaBossiere read out excerpts from every paragraph of the union-drafted apology letter, Lane said he agreed with the points the union had wanted him to say to the paramedics, but insisted he could not sign the letter.

Peltz also questioned Lane about the union-drafted apology.

"This letter... you could have signed it," Peltz told Lane. "If you had or would, obviously this would be a significant step forward in the relationship that needs healing."

The hearing was originally scheduled for three days but the hearing wrapped up Friday before LaBossiere and John Jacobs, the City of Winnipeg counsel, could make their final arguments.

Peltz said the hearing will be reconvened at a later date.

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

Aldo Santin

Aldo Santin
Reporter

Aldo Santin is a veteran newspaper reporter who first carried a pen and notepad in 1978 and joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1986, where he has covered a variety of beats and specialty areas including education, aboriginal issues, urban and downtown development. Santin has been covering city hall since 2013.

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History

Updated on Friday, October 13, 2017 at 9:51 PM CDT: Full write through and edit

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