Harassment investigation undertaken

An independent investigator is looking into the allegations of sexual harassment filed against Fire Chief Rob Bennett.

An independent investigator is looking into the allegations of sexual harassment filed against Fire Chief Rob Bennett.

Paul McKivett of James R. Craven and Associates Ltd. was hired by the District of Fort St. James to take on the investigation.

Bennett has been accused of incidents of sexual harassment against two female firefighters on the Fort St. James Volunteer Fire Department.

Kirstin Rudolph is one of the firefighters who brought forward a complaint, hers resulting from an incident after fire practice at the fire hall on July 18.

Since the complaints became public, the District of Fort St. James met with firefighters and asked for no one to speak publicly about the allegations.

Rudolph said McKivet’s experience was apparent during his interview with her.

“He really chose his questions well to really get back into the heart of the matter,” said Rudolph.

She said so far three women have provided information but she is hoping other women who had concerns regarding Bennett’s behaviour will come forward.

“If they do not wish to be identified, we can keep their identities secret, but we need to hear from them,” she said.

While the investigation helps to reassure her something will be done, Rudolph was also questioning the District’s handling of previous concerns regarding Bennett’s behaviour. A fellow firefighter came forward in January and a letter was submitted in April detailing concerns regarding alleged drinking and unprofessional behaviour.

“The problem now is optics,” she said.

Rudolph said firefighters at the hall did not see any results of bringing forward their concerns, even though something may have been done to try and address the problems.

“There’s a silence on the part of the District.”

The District of Fort St. James’ policy on harassment states: “The council will treat all incidents of harassment seriously. We undertake to act upon all complaints and to ensure that they are resolved quickly, confidentially, and fairly.

We will discipline anyone who has harassed a person or group of people or who retaliates in any way against anyone who has complained of harassment, given evidence in harassment investigations, or been found guilty of harassment. … The council of the District of Fort St. James will not tolerate harassment.”

The investigation was expected to be completed last week and a report with recommendations submitted on or before the end of this week to the District.

“I’m really curious to see what the recommendations will be,” said Rudolph.

She also said the atmosphere at the fire hall is under some strain as everyone adjusts to “the new norm” but she believes the investigation will help the dust to settle eventually.

“Hopefully the department will be better,” she said.

Mayor Rob MacDougall declined comment as did the District of Fort St. James Chief Administrative Officer Kevin Crook.

Fire Chief Rob Bennett did not respond to messages prior to press time.