Double-Hatters and the OPFFA Continue to Battle
/ Author: Ian DeWaard
/ Categories: Newsletters /
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Double-Hatters and the OPFFA Continue to Battle

During recent months, double-hatters in Caledon, Tecumseh, and Halton Hills have been attracting national media attention for their fight with the Ontario Professional Fire Fighters Association (OPPFA). The OPFFA is again targeting its own members and charging them with violating the union’s constitution for volunteering as firefighters in their home communities. If found guilty, members are warned they’ll be assigned a $500 monthly penalty—and suspension or expulsion from the union. In effect, this would result in the loss of their full-time jobs, since only members in good standing of the OPFFA are permitted to work in departments where the OPFFA is the union. 

In the face of such threats, most full-time firefighters have had to resign their volunteer positions. But volunteers in Caledon have stood up to the OPFFA. Depending on what happens next, this case might put to the test recent amendments to the Fire Protection and Prevention Act that were supposed to protect firefighters that engaged in “reasonable union dissent” from losing their jobs as firefighters. 

OPFFA’s internal tribunal met on May 12. On June 15, it issued a verdict finding the Caledon members guilty of double-hatting and liable to face large fines. The members have vowed to appeal. 

In the past, the OPFFA has claimed that its attack on double-hatters is in the interests of the health and safety of its members and the public. They suggest that double-hatting firefighters might arrive at a scene with no clear understanding of who their commanding officer is, thereby creating confusion and chaos on scene. They also suggest that double-hatters are more susceptible to arriving to an event exhausted, making them a risk to their fellow responders. 

Recent public comments betray different, less altruistic motives. Fred Leblanc, the vice-president of the OPFFA’s parent union, told the CBC that his union is focused on pursuing double-hatters in “growing communities with growing tax bases” where there should be a “natural growth in the fire services.” (“Double hatting criticized by firefighter’s union” May 16, 2017). 

The OPFFA’s position is that growing municipalities should be a target of their union’s growth strategy. Presently, the OPFFA’s conduct is not illegal in Ontario, although such conduct is prohibited in eight provinces. Perhaps now the public debate can focus on the real question of whether this union should be allowed to cause its own members to be fined and fired for the sake of the union’s growth strategy. 

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