Former Renfrew fire chief threatens to sue if forced retirement is upheld

Former Renfrew fire chief threatens to sue if forced retirement is upheld
CBC News

Former Renfrew, Ont., fire chief Guy Longtin's lawyer is calling Longtin's forced retirement a "vendetta" and has threatened to sue if the town council doesn't reconsider by noon Friday.

On Monday, May 7, council decided in a closed-door meeting to make the mandatory retirement age for fire chief age 60. Longtin is 61 and was offered a package to retire immediately.

Renfrew, Ont., fire chief fights town over forced retirement
In a letter to Renfrew Mayor Don Eady and shared with media, Longtin's lawyer, Bruce Sevigny, threatened a $1.7-million lawsuit unless council reconsiders the decision.

Sevigny outlines several conditions for Longtin to return to work, including an apology, repayment of legal expenses and finally, that Eady himself step down.

"It is a condition of this proposal that you immediately resign your position as mayor of the Town of Renfrew," wrote Sevigny, arguing the mandatory retirement decision was made in "bad faith and troubling self-interest," damaging the work relationship.

Sevigny describes the mayor's actions as a "vendetta" following an alleged incident between the chief and the mayor a year ago.

"There is good reason to believe that the true motivation behind this termination can be linked to a written harassment complaint that Chief Longtin advanced against [the mayor] in March 2017," states the letter.

Harassment allegations
In a phone interview, Sevigny suggested the complaint involved an outburst by the mayor that "crossed the line" and Longtin told the mayor he considered the conduct harassment.

Speaking on behalf of council, Renfrew Reeve Peter Emon said he was not authorized to talk about an alleged incident since it involves the privacy of an employee.

Moreover, Emon said the process to develop the new policy was not led by the mayor, but brought forward by him and approved unanimously by council.

Longtin's lawyer's letter makes two main points:

That there were serious problems with how the decision was made, describing it as an "ambush" with no warning, given the fire chief had been in the post for 26 years.
That the decision itself is unlawful.
On the latter issue, council took the current mandatory retirement age for the province's "frontline firefighters" and extended it to the fire chief, which Sevigny said is likely an Ontario first.

He argues the original law is for unionized workers based on "the unique physical and hazardous work firefighters do to keep communities safe."

The town council suggests the chief does frontline work, but Sevigny asserts the chief attended an active fire scene as "incident commander" only twice in the last year.

Decade of lost pay, benefits
Sevigny wrote in his letter to the mayor that the $1.7 million represents the value of lost salary and benefits for the next 10 years.

It would also include "general damages" and "punitive damages" based on the "egregious nature of the town's actions and chosen approach."

The town has also refused to extend some health benefits, leaving Longtin unable to support a family member with a "life-threatening illness" that requires thousands of dollars in medication, states the letter.

"This further supports the conclusion that this decision represents some type of personal vendetta for you, Mayor Eady, and that you have deliberately planned and orchestrated a 'power play' designed to inflict harm on Chief Longtin and his family," Sevigny's letter states.

Emon said the town would have to consult with its own lawyers before responding to the letter. He added that council had no plans to meet before the noon-hour deadline to reverse its decision.

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