Gender equity

Women not suited to police, fire jobs, says HRM councillor

Russell Walker’s comments spark backlash

Coun. Russell Walker believes Halifax Regional Municipality will never see gender equity in its workforce because women don’t want “non-traditional” jobs.

Walker’s comments were made at an executive committee meeting Monday, after a report showed 71 per cent of the municipality’s employees are men and 29 per cent are women. He specifically highlighted firefighters, labourers, bus drivers and police officers in his argument.

“I don’t think we’ll ever be 50/50. I don’t think it’s possible to be 50/50,” said Walker. “The categories of job descriptions we have here, I don’t think we can get there. Maybe I’m wrong, but I can’t see how, with the categories that we have being filled with non-traditional women working jobs … because they may not want to work at those jobs.”

He said he knows “many young women” who have joined and quit the police force because “it’s not their thing.” He also said the HRM is already hiring the best people for the job.

Walker warned council to “be careful on how we portray ourselves” when hiring new employees. He wants to make sure young men don’t get the message to “just go west” or that “you haven’t got a hope here.”

Comments denounced

“It does seem to me that Mr. Walker’s comments are out of touch with the times,” Wayne MacKay, professor emeritus at Dalhousie’s Schulich School of Law and a former director of the Nova Scotia Human Rights, said in an email.

At one point people wouldn’t believe 50 per cent of the federal cabinet could be women or 50 per cent of Dalhousie’s law school graduates would be women, said MacKay. However both are now true.

Coun. Lisa Blackburn, who was not present during Monday’s meeting, said she’s never heard Walker say anything sexually discriminatory.

“If it is a gender thing—that’s kind of disappointing,” said Blackburn.“But I know men who have signed up for police and fire and have stepped away because it’s not their thing.”

Liane Tessier is the co-founder of Equity Watch, a Halifax group that supports employees pursuing employment equity.

“I get tired of hearing these sexist comments, about women not being capable or strong enough to do the job,” said Tessier, a former Halifax firefighter. “They’re just stereotypes that are not relevant or appropriate anymore and they undermine our ability and our right to belong within these male dominated workplaces.

Tessier left her job as a firefighter in 2008. She filed a discrimination case with Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission saying she was sexually harassed and degraded on the job by her fellow firefighters.

“It is possible to have a 50/50 per cent. There are women out there that would love to be a firefighter or a police officer,” said Tessier.

A big part of why the number of women in these jobs is so low, Tessier believes, is because of the constant harassment they face from male colleagues.

“You’ve got men who sabotage your safety gear or throw you down a set of stairs, or abandon you in a fire—which Halifax women firefighters have told me in the past that’s what’s happened to them,” she said.

“These guys don’t have your back. When something like that happens to you, you’re poorly treated in the workplace. There’s nowhere to go. No support, no resources, no help.”

In the past, Tessier has recommended the municipality adopt a policy of hiring 40 to 50 per cent women and that it commission an independent report on sex and gender discrimination and employment equity. Both recommendations were refused.

The executive committee endorsed a similar request Monday from Coun. Richard Zurawski, who asked staff for a report on improving gender parity in the municipal workforce. Walker’s comments were in response to Zurawski’s motion.

“There’s a lot of misconceptions and it’s just frustrating to hear councillors speak this way about women,” said Tessier.

Apology to women

Tessier is one of two former firefighters who have filed gender discrimination complaints with the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission.

Tessier’s case ended with a settlement in 2017. Halifax Fire chief Ken Stuebing publicly apologized to female fighters for workplace discrimination. The other discrimination case is still in the hearing stage.

In Walker’s comments that singled out specific jobs, he said those positions are designed for certain types of people.

“You have to be a very special person to be a police officer in my opinion. Same thing with the fire department,” he said. “It’s no easy job; if there’s a fire, your life is on the line.”

He took the same approach for outside workers and bus drivers.

“To myself, bus drivers are a very special breed. To be able to drive the bus day in day out and take the comments that they take all the time and represent us.”

Walker was first elected to Halifax City Council in 1994. He was elected to the Halifax Regional Municipality Council in 1995. He represents District 10, Bedford Basin West.

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  1. If this or any other city councilman actually believes that women do not belong in these roles, they need to be removed immediately! I know that in my male dominated security role, I can literally & have prpven to be able to run circles around any of my male counterparts. The notion that women are not capable to do these jobs, itself is absolutely absurd!! I currently also have the most industry experience & training than any male counterpart that I work with. Anyone in HRM management that holds these misogynist idealisms, gender, sexuality or racial issues, needs to be removed & replaced with appropriate candidates.

  2. The headline is totally misleading…clickbait. But it does bring to light an interesting topic – equality. I am all for women in male dominated vocations, IF they are physically capable of the work. Why would an employer hire a woman (or man) that is 5ft tall to be a firefighter? Are they capable of lifting the heavy gear? Carrying victims?

    There is still a huge ‘boy’s club’ mentality in our neck of the woods but it has come a long way.

    1. ‘If you want more females in those jobs then encourage more women to TRY to take up those jobs instead of making it harder for men and easier for women.’

      you think it is easier for women to get these jobs than men??? they get the jobs and then the male population who do not want to be outdone by a woman, so they harass her. are there no 5′ tall men firefighters??? terrible statement

    2. I’m not quite 5’3″, am female, and was very capable of carrying both gear and people when I was a volunteer firefighter in Alberta years ago. I also used to carry men much larger than myself across a very large room when doing mma training. Its about skill and dedication, not size. I was more skilled than many of the male firefighters, who were too lazy to commit to proper trying on a regular basis. I was also able to fit into small spaces during rescue, that the men were too large to fit in. Does that help with your question?

  3. It is absolutely insane that this is treated as legitimate media. Not only is the title derogratory and essentially ‘click bait’ but the amount of content quoted from himself, in an article about himself barely fills a paragraph.

    Reporting and writing like this abhorrent and has no place being listwd as news.

  4. Sad! Awful headline with nothing to back it up. When I was a young female teacher entering into an all male workforce as an Indusrial Arts teacher, Mr Walker was a most supportive colleague. He was a true professional in every sense of the word.

  5. Learn how to write an article and how to do a proper headline.

    Unbelievably poor journalism right here. Maybe you should go back to Journalism 101.

  6. Names of articles are miss leading all of the time! I understand his comments that it can be hard to get women to consider male dominated jobs. ?Of course this is true for men. I do think its possible to increase equity, easily! I think HRM is a bit of an old boys club. It makes me question how come the city only chooses to control male dominated occupations! Women would love to have men in more female dominated jobs, the truth how come ment might not want them is more likely because they don’t pay as much and involve less unionized positions. The biggest examples being childcare workers!! To me, the hardest part of the sound cloud clip to listen to is the counsellor mentioning that you have to think of your voters. Half of the voters should be females, and I think females should agree that the cities tax dollars should be more evenly split between the citizens that it serves!!!

  7. Titles of articles are meant to draw in attention…I don’t know the counsellor and I understand that it is hard to get women to work in certain fields and hard to get men to work in certain fields, but the reality is that male dominated jobs always pay more! It makes me wonder how come the city is only in charge of male dominated occupations. I think its very possible for hrm to take more eniciative to improve there equity. Its like the old boys club! I actually think its time for this counsellor to go. His comments which I heard on sound cloud at the end is what especially made me mad, talking about its the voters who count. I’m sure that at least half of his voters are women, or should be, and I think they should care about equity and where there tax dollars are being spent! Female dominated fields would in most cases love to have more men welcome them, but a lot of those positions are not unionized and don’t pay as much, for example, childcare centres, so its not very appealing for those reasons alone!!!

  8. This writer is fake news at its finest and I would say they are trying to get the most clicks to become popular. Russell could rally have a case for slander.

  9. I like how this article digs beneath the observation that women quit police/fire work because it “isn’t their thing”. What exactly isn’t appealing to them? A hostile work environment can be so toxic, and there’s such clear documentation of the problems in Halifax’s fire department. Maybe being abandoned in a fire “isn’t their thing”, but meaningful employment is exactly the thing for capable Haligonian women.

    Unfortunately, the sensational headline does put a bull’s eye on that councillor, which isn’t helpful. It’s sweet to read the testimonials of his defenders, and I hope everyone reads the entire article.

  10. The headline for this article infuriated me to no end. I do not know this man, but from the body of the article, I would not say he is sexist. I do not see one sexist comment anywhere. He does not say women are not suited or cannot do the job, he simply says that he finds women are not interested in them. HUGE difference

  11. Media spin, snippets out of context. Russell Walker is a great Councilor who represents this city very well. He has been around long enough to see the ins, outs, success and failures of this Municipality for decades. He is extremely respectful and fair in every sense of the word. This reads like American Media #fakenews purposely edited to create controversy. The real shame in this story is perpetrated by the author, editor and publisher.

  12. So misleading. It’s like saying there are to many nurses that are women or to many day care workers that are women. Men don’t go into nursing or day care because it’s not what they want.
    These feminist only want equality in certain areas not all. Don’t see women complaining about not enough women on the back of garbage trucks, soldiering, mining, constuction etc.
    Please stop trying to relate everything to the popular trend of of male bashing and women victimhood and start thinking for your self.

  13. Russel Walker was my teacher for 3 years and he is one of the most kind,Caring, selfless people there are and his comments are unfortunately very realistic and in no way would he discriminate. Pathetic headline.

  14. I listened to his entire statement, which you posted in the body of the article. Nowhere did he state that women are not suited to police and fire jobs, as your headline reads.
    Agree or disagree with his comments and opinion, but your headline is egregiously misleading and quite literally put words in the mans mouth.

  15. What a disgusting headline.

    You even state yourself that he said that women tend to not choose these jobs, not that they aren’t suited for the jobs.

    Narrative over reality?

  16. Russell Walker’s comments reflect the reality that perfect equity in various job categories is not necessarily always possible, even under the best of circumstances and at any given time. Individual choices matter as well, and so far not enough women/men are applying for jobs that have “traditionally” been considered either male or female. Think of daycare workers and miners, for instance. Should we nevertheless demand “equity” in these fields?

  17. This is mind bogglingly stupid, I dont see anywhere where he said “Women aren’t suitable” the point I bealive he was trying to make is that more men tend to want to be firefighters/ police officers over women which is definitely true! So there are less women trying to be police officers/ firefighters then men, therefor there will be more male police officer/ firefighters. What is wrong with that? If you want more females in those jobs then encourage more women to TRY to take up those jobs instead of making it harder for men and easier for women. Why does every job have have 50% women and 50% men? That way of thinking will only cause people to get hired based ofd of their gender and not how qualified they are for the job. Wouldn’t you rather have a qualified person over a person with a specifiic gender?

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