Renfrew fire chief launches legal fight over forced retirement

Renfrew fire chief launches legal fight over forced retirement
CBC News

Renfrew's former fire chief is fighting back against a move to push him into retirement with a legal fight launched Wednesday.

Up until Monday Guy Longtin, 61, had been fire chief in the community, about an hour west of Ottawa, since 1992.

In a closed-door meeting Monday, council adopted rules that set the age limit for the chief at 60, which is the same limit the province sets for frontline firefighters.

"It is my intention to hold the Town of Renfrew, and its responsible decision-makers, fully accountable for their illegal actions," wrote Longtin in a message to the CBC.

"In moving forward with this case, it is my intention to speak not only for myself, but for other older workers across the province, who deserve to be judged by the quality of their workplace contributions, not simply by the numbers on their birth certificates."

Mandatory retirement for firefighters
In 2011, Ontario amended its Fire Protection and Prevention Act to recognize "the unique physical and hazardous work firefighters do to keep communities safe."

The changes set a mandatory retirement age of 60, however, "the changes only apply to salaried firefighters involved in frontline firefighting duties," stated a media release at the time.

Most municipalities have not extended the mandatory retirement to fire chiefs.

However, Renfrew Reeve Peter Emon said the town council decided the fire chief is involved in "frontline firefighting duties" because the chief sometimes acts as incident commander, which requires attending and managing a working fire.

Emon disputed allegations the town's decision is ageist. He said the town consulted lawyers about extending the legislation to its chief, relying on legal precedents by the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario and the Ontario Supreme Court.

Arnprior hires 60-year-old
In neighbouring Arnprior, the town hired a 60-year-old fire chief just last year.

The town's chief administrative officer, Michael Wildman said a team of recruiters went through dozens of candidates, and a multi-stage interview process, to land on the current chief.

"By far, in our opinion he was the stand-out candidate," said Wildman.

"We feel we got the right guy here," he explained. "We feel he brings with him a wealth of experience and knowledge that we might not get in someone earlier on in their career."

Wildman said Arnprior interprets the legislation as not applying to the chief, since in their view he is not a frontline firefighter, even when he is working as an incident commander.

Emon confirmed that Longtin has been offered a package to retire.

"We also have an employment contract which we feel we've met our obligations under it as well," he said. 

Longtin told CBC he will decide in the coming days whether to fight his mandatory retirement through the Ontario Human Rights Commission or the courts.

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