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Firefighters' union releases confidential City of Burnaby letter to vindicate president

Investigation summary concludes allegations of bullying and harassment made against IAFF Local 323 president Jeff Clark by former fire Chief Joe Robertson were 'unfounded'
Burnaby firefighters
Burnaby Fire Fighters IAFF Local 323

The Burnaby firefighters’ union has released a private and confidential letter from the city and two sealed court documents to all its members in a bid to clear its president of allegations he bullied the city’s last fire chief.

IAFF Local 323 sent a letter to members on Nov. 10 with the documents attached.

The union letter pointed to a September Burnaby NOW article, saying it contained “false and malicious allegations” against union president Jeff Clark.

The union said it could “no longer permit the lie to persist” and was therefore releasing a summary of the results of a city investigation into former fire Chief Joe Robertson’s claims Clark had bullied and harassed him.

The City of Burnaby letter summarizing the allegations and findings was marked “Private & Confidential.”

According to the letter, Robertson had alleged Clark had blamed him and his predecessor for “all of the ills which had befallen the union and its members when Derek Corrigan was the mayor,” saying Robertson and his predecessor “went along” with Corrigan and “didn’t fight hard enough.”

Robertson had also accused Clark of ageism for telling him to retire multiple times and further alleged the union president had deliberately bypassed and isolated him, according to the letter.

Finally, the letter says Robertson had alleged Clark and now fire Chief Chris Bowcock had deliberately excluded him from speaking at a memorial they organized for a longtime Burnaby firefighter who died of an occupation-related cancer.

After weighing the evidence gathered during the investigation, the city concluded Clark had not breached its respectful workplace policy, according to the city letter.

“In conclusion, based on the findings outlined above, the city finds that the allegations are unfounded, and you did not engage in bullying and harassment of the complainant.”

Included in the letter was a paragraph directing Clark to keep its contents confidential.

“We remind you that the investigation and the results remain confidential and it is our expectation that you will not advise anyone in the workplace, or otherwise connected with the workplace, about this investigation and that you will keep confidential all information related to it,” states the letter.

The union also released a notice of civil claim filed by Robertson in small claims court and a counterclaim filed by the city.

Robertson, who left the Burnaby Fire Department in March 2020 after almost a year on mental health leave, is suing the city in small claims court for WorkSafe money he claims the city has improperly withheld from him.

His notice of civil claim includes allegations of bullying against Clark and Bowcock.

The city has since launched a counterclaim, denying Robertson’s allegations and countersuing him for breaching “confidentiality obligations” attached to a settlement he signed with the city.

The city has successfully applied to have the court file sealed. It was sealed by a B.C. Supreme Court judge on Oct. 20.

Clark “has had to endure undue stress and anxiety” because of Robertson’s allegations and the NOW story, according to the union letter.

It says the president has forgone public appearances in support of the union’s charity work “out of concern that the malicious and false accusations might mar their efforts.”

The union said it had sent out the letter and documents to set the record straight.

“It may not undue [sic] the harm to our Union and our President that the news story has created, but Local 323 and President Clark have had no choice but to try to clear the air with this notice and the attachments,” the letter states. “It is unfortunate that Joe has taken this misguided step at a time when he should be enjoying his retirement and taking care of his health.”

The NOW reached out to the union for comment before publishing the story about Robertson’s small claims suit in September but didn’t get a response.

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