The union representing Yellowknife’s firefighters is demanding the City of Yellowknife release a full, unredacted report published nearly one year ago.
The Yellowknife Fire Fighters Association, also known as IAAF Local 2890, issued a statement on Feb. 23 claiming that the city isn’t being upfront about what’s contained in a Community Risk Assessment Report, which was written by Dave Mitchell and Associates Ltd., a consultancy firm based in Coquitlam, B.C., and delivered to the city on April 18, 2022. The firm’s website states it specializes in public safety consulting.
Following an access to information request, the association received the report on Jan. 13, but several portions were blacked out. Several media outlets in the city also received the same document from the city the day the release was published, which contained several redactions, some of which were full-page in length.
There are even sections of the report which have titles blacked out, such as sections 15 and 17. In contrast, section 19, titled YKFD Emergency Preparedness and Business Continuity, has all parts of the section redacted.
In response to Yellowknifer’s question about why redactions appeared in the report given to both the association and media, city spokesperson Kerry Thistle stated some of the information given to the city was “sensitive and strategic in nature.”
“The City of Yellowknife takes the safety of our community very seriously,” she said in part. “This important planning document identifies and prioritizes risks so that the City can develop a plan that reduces or minimizes the risk.”
Christian Bittrolff, president of the firefighters association, also feels it’s an important document, but stated he’s concerned that the whole story isn’t being told.
“People have a right to know the details about something as important as how the city plans to keep them and their families safe from fires and other emergencies,” he said.
When it comes to providing information, Thistle stated that the city follows the GNWT’s Access To Information and Protection of Privacy Act (ATIPP) as a “guide to ensure fairness and transparency in the process,” but is not required to follow the act to the letter.
Even though the territorial legislation doesn’t apply in municipal circumstances, Bittrolff said the city still took a $25 fee to get access to the report.
He also stated that the association was told by the city not to bother appealing the matter “because they are not bound by any access to information laws.”
The redacted sections of the report cite multiple sections of ATIPP as reasons for the blackouts. They include section 14, which deals with “advice, proposals, recommendations, analyses or policy options developed by or for a public body” — the majority of the redactions used this provision — and section 16, which outlines impairing relations with other governments i.e. the GNWT.
The statement from the firefighters association outlined its concerns on matters such as dispatch delays, water availability, meaningful training, mutual aid and frontline resource allocation protocols.
That can leave the city without any firefighters available to respond to fires or other emergencies in the event of simultaneous EMS calls, the statement added.
Because of the redaction, said Bittrolff, there’s no way of knowing if those issues are being addressed by the city.
“If residents are safe or if the city is working to make sure they are adequately protected, I don’t understand why they would hide key sections of the report,” he said. “Ultimately, being denied the full report undermines our ability to advocate public and firefighter safety.”
Bittrolff also said taxpayers and other stakeholders should be concerned that there is no ability for the public to examine important public safety documents that they have paid for.
Yellowknifer asked to speak with Craig MacLean, the city’s director of public service, about the report, but the city said he was not available for comment.