Thousands of people came out to the Black Lives Matter rally Sunday in Victoria’s Centennial Square but one group who attended is now facing backlash for showing up.
Shortly before the rally, the Victoria Firefighters’ Union Local 730 posted on its Facebook page that while they were supportive of the event they wouldn’t be in attendance for crowd control and added “we are not supportive of Esquimalt Fire Department participating in crowd management activities within the City of Victoria”.
“We just feel that if Esquimalt firefighters are going to do police work, they should do it in their own municipality,” said Victoria IAFF Local 730 Treasurer Ajay Leblanc.
Esquimalt’s involvement in the Greater Victoria Crowd Management Unit began in 2017. Victoria Fire was also invited to join but declined.
The partnership followed recommendations that came out of the Stanley Cup riot in 2011.
Since then Esquimalt Fire has been working with police officers from departments across Greater Victoria at large events like Canada Day celebrations.
Victoria Police, which heads up the unit, and the head of the Esquimalt firefighters’ union insist the firefighters are not involved in any policing but rather attend the events as medics.
“Our members are there for the sole purpose of providing urgent medical care to police officers and moving them to safe location where they can be treated by the local fire department or the BC Ambulance Service,” said Esquimalt Fire Fighters Assocation President Andrew Zado.
But that’s exactly what Leblanc says his union takes issue with.
“To Victoria firefighters there’s a difference between public safety and police safety, and we’re here for the public safety,” he said.
Esquimalt’s mayor says integrated units aren’t new and she argues that this one has proven successful at numerous events over the past few years.
“You get the skill sets that are required to keep people safe and at the end of the day that’s what it’s all about,” said Mayor Barb Desjardins.
She says Esquimalt Fire will continue to be part of the unit attending events like Sunday’s rally and says there are actually other fire departments in the region looking to join in.