Russell Mack has been a firefighter for 35 years.
A gruff, straight-talking chief, he’s been in charge of the
Pemberton Fire District since 1996. Wherever he goes, there’s little question
as to who’s in charge of the department — a hat paying tribute to
firefighters killed on 9/11 sits atop his graying head, and a memorial
honouring that day’s fallen firefighters hangs on the far wall of his office.
It’s out of a deep concern for his community that he’s speaking
this September morning. He
worries that a village he’s served for over a decade could elect a village
council member who just a year ago could have ended his career.
“I want people to understand what kind of an individual this
guy is,” Mack says.
He’s talking about David Andrew MacKenzie, a village councillor
and candidate for mayor in November’s municipal election.
MacKenzie brought a human rights complaint against Mack and the
Village of Pemberton in 2007. In documents filed with the B.C. Human Rights
Tribunal, MacKenzie alleged that he was passed over for a promotion while
serving as a volunteer firefighter because of his sexuality. He also said that
Mack had repeatedly made homophobic jokes and that there was a “naked girl
calendar” on the wall of the fire hall.
A complaint settlement was reached before the matter went to
the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal. That settlement asked Mack to provide MacKenzie
with a letter of apology and the village to reimburse him for “all reasonable
expenses” up to $5,000.
A VOP letter obtained under a Freedom of Information request
shows that MacKenzie received $5,000. It also stated that the village paid
$12,480.44 for its own legal fees.
According to this document, the human rights complaint cost
Pemberton taxpayers a total of $17,480.44, though councillor Mark Blundell has
said in a previous
story that the
number sounded “a little light” to him.
The Village of Pemberton also held harassment-awareness
training after the complaint, which the village paid for.
The complaint made headlines in April of this year, landing
MacKenzie’s face on the front page of the
and netting a “Human Rights” story in
, a prominent newspaper in Vancouver’s
gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual community.
paraphrases MacKenzie as saying there is a culture of homophobia at the
Pemberton fire department and at fire halls in general. “It’s like an old boys
club,” he told
“There’s a culture there that’s just not right.”