Winnipeg mayor open to releasing video of controversial emergency call

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman says he supports releasing any new information that would shed light on an emergency call for an Indigenous patient last October that led to a third-party review, but there are legal and privacy issues that need to be addressed. 

The United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg, stinging from a report suggesting there was evidence of implicit bias and lack of concern for an injured Indigenous patient, want the city to release the video from the ambulance on the call.

The investigation was spurred by a complaint from an ambulance paramedic who attended a call about a 23-year-old woman on Oct. 7, 2020, who had a self-inflicted stab wound to the neck.

The investigation was prompted by a complaint from a paramedic who was on the call.

The paramedic alleged there was a delay transporting the patient to the hospital because of a disagreement between two firefighters at the scene about who should come along in the ambulance, and that the firefighter in question “blatantly refused” to help.

The firefighters’ union says time-stamped video evidence from the ambulance on the call will show “the firefighters in question did not fail to provide proper medical care” or delay transportation for the patient to the hospital. 

“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,” the UFFW said in a Wednesday statement. 

A set of hearings are underway to determine whether any of the city of Winnipeg staff on the emergency call should be disciplined. They are all on leave while that process is going on. 

Bowman singled out UFFW president Alex Forrest in a call with reporters on Wednesday, saying the union can lead the way by getting his members to sign waivers to releasing all materials from the call, including any video evidence.

Mayor Brian Bowman is challenging two of the city’s largest unions; “when they can’t even acknowledge the existence of systemic racism, one has to ask, why not?” (Jeff Stapleton/CBC )

“The starting place for Mr. Forrest would be to provide written consents of his members for the release of all of their information pertaining to this matter. That would be a that would be a starting place,” Bowman said. 

Mayor wants meeting with unions on racism

Bowman says he’s sent a letter this week to the heads of the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union (MGEU), the UFFW and the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Senior Officers’ Association (WFPSOA) inviting their leaders to meet with Fire Chief John Lane, the city’s acting CAO and himself.

Bowman said so far, he has only received a response from the head of WFP officers’ association.

The MGEU says it has also accepted the invite.

“Let’s be frank. The two largest unions at the centre of this UFW and MGEU, you don’t always get along and they haven’t for many, many years. And I’ll say this,  when they can’t even acknowledge the existence of systemic racism, one has to ask, why not?” 

The MGEU is the union representing ambulance paramedics and released a statement on Wednesday about making the video of the controversial emergency call. In a statement, its president took issue with the mayor’s comments, stating that it had been MGEU that filed the complaint about the ‘racist incident,’ which prompted the City of Winnipeg to conduct an independent investigation.

“A simple internet search of recent media coverage shows several MGEU statements against racism in the WFPS. The Mayor’s suggestion that MGEU has not called out racism is an obvious lie, probably intended to distract from his failure to make any progress in dealing with workplace culture of the WFPS,” said Gawronsky, in a statement.

She urged the mayor to exercise his “legal responsibility as the employer” to ensure a workplace free from “these behaviours.”

“The Mayor has the authority to fix this problem. He should use it. Emergency services are too important to allow this situation continue.”

Bowman also pointed a finger at the province of Manitoba, which has broad control of the ambulance paramedic service in Winnipeg.

“There is a tremendous amount of stress about the future of the service that’s been the elephant in the room for many years. We’ve been looking for direction from the provincial government on what they would like to do with ambulance services, which is in their areas of jurisdiction,” Bowman said.