Fire chief speaks out against mayoral candidate 

Russell Mack tells his side of the human rights complaint

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 to Pique 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 Pique 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 Vancouver Sun and netting a “Human Rights” story in Xtra West , a prominent newspaper in Vancouver’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual community.

The Xtra West story 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 Xtra West . “There’s a culture there that’s just not right.”

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