Review calls for ‘urgent attention’ to sexual harassment in B.C.’s ambulance service

Review calls for 'urgent attention' to sexual harassment in B.C.'s ambulance service
Nicholas Pescod
File photo of an ambulance.

An external reviewer for BC Emergency Health Service (BCEHS) says the organization needs “urgent attention and a sustained focus” on sexual harassment.

In the July 2022 report, which was just released on Friday, the author, Cathe Gaskell, the managing director of The Results Company, which consults on healthcare service improvement, highlighted the issue.

“The breadth of sexual harassment activity reported, and the sense of frustration expressed by a number of female paramedics, as well as acknowledgement by male colleagues of its existence, requires urgent attention and a sustained focus on to reduce, by the organization,” the report says.

“Historical patterns of how sexual harassment claims were addressed, is still impacting on complaint reporting in 2022 and it’s a reasonable conclusion that sexual harassment is under reported at BCEHS.”

Staff said in the review that they do not believe complaints about sexual harassment at BCEHS would be acted on, and some said the union discouraged reporting the incidents calling it a “he said, she said issue.”

“Many staff described having heard about or been aware of sexual harassment in the workplace, examples were given including sexualized language and innuendo and offensive remarks, which were labelled as humour by the perpetrators,” the report says.

“Staff expressed concerns that the union had reportedly supported alleged perpetrators, both historically and currently, and this created conflict. Some staff alleged it appeared perpetrators were protected through minimal sanctions for those found to have sexually harassed others, and these minimal sanctions might reinforce a sense of impunity in colleagues.”

Lack of movement on staff burnout

Staff also identified that there was a feeling that leadership at BCEHS was not taking steps to address issues with staff burnout.

The 2021 heat dome, opioid crisis, and staff calling in sick were all factors that were cited as increasing burnout and staff said not enough is being done to address the issue.

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For the heat dome, staff reported feeling shame and anger over the situation and the number of deaths, and that leadership did not recognize or respond to frustrations that were felt.

As a result of the opioid crisis, staff said there has been an increase in people calling out sick as a response, and also the fact that responding to patients who are overdosing leads to a sense of “helplessness and frustration” for some of the people who overdose multiple times.


Gaskell made 37 recommendations in eight categories for the BCEHS to improve on the issues raised by employees.

The section with the most recommendations was to address gender equality, which had 12 recommendations in the category.

These included implementing a “Gender Equality Strategy” that commits to fairness and equality for female paramedics, create a sexual harassment in the workplace policy, train human resources staff on how to deal with sexual harassment complaints, training union members and senior leaders to recognize the impact of sexual harassment, create a training delivery for teams that have three or more reports of sexual harassment in a year, and support allyship awareness.

Steps BCEHS is taking

While releasing the report, BCEHS said there are actions underway to address issues raised in the report.

This included training HR on how to handle sensitive workplace investigations, implementing a training program for managers and supervisors to learn how to confront inappropriate behaviours, and establishing a confidential phone line for employees to report harassment, bullying or discrimination.

“There is much more work underway, as you will see when the People Strategy consultation process begins in the coming weeks. We are intent on rebuilding BCEHS in the areas that are key to ensuring all employees are safe, supported and able to excel,” Leanne Heppell, chief ambulance officer, said in a July 7 letter to BCEHS staff.

“I want to assure you that there is a strong commitment to change at all levels, and that the necessary actions are being taken. That is something we can feel good about and hold onto as we lean into the heavy lifting that remains. We will get it done. Together.”

Laura BroughamLaura Brougham

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