Five firefighters who have been found guilty by their union of "double-hatting," or moonlighting at their local fire halls, say they will appeal the conviction and persist in the practice, the latest escalation of a conflict that has pitted organized labour against small towns across Ontario in recent years.
The union tribunal verdict, delivered last week, stems from the case of five full-time Brampton firefighters who volunteer for the fire department in Caledon, Ont., a sprawling municipality northwest of Toronto, where they live. The volunteers are paid about $50 a call.
"I want to serve as a volunteer firefighter like my father did, and I think it's the right thing to do," said Mandy Gould, one of the convicted double-hatters. "Me sitting on my hands when my neighbour needs me isn't an option."
The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) bans its members from volunteering at fire halls that overlap with the union's jurisdiction, which the double-hatters admitted to doing at a hearing in May. The rule is in place primarily to encourage the growth of unionized firefighting jobs where those posts are currently filled by part-timers.
Ms. Gould and her colleagues have been suspended from the IAFF and face escalating fines that could amount to $24,000 a year if they continue to double-hat.
Fred LeBlanc, District 13 vice-president of the IAFF, said the fines are meant as a "deterrent" against what he sees as simple rule-breaking.
"It's one thing not to like the rule; it's another thing to ignore it without consequence," Mr. LeBlanc said.
Ontario is one of just two provinces that doesn't explicitly protect double-hatters, although the province's Bill 109, which became law in 2015, offers some safeguards. The double-hatters contend that the legislation prevents firefighters from losing their jobs if they have been kicked out of the union for discriminatory reasons or for engaging in "reasonable dissent."
Still, even without the prospect of losing her job, Ms. Gould said she found the punishment harsh. "It wasn't easy to see," she said. "It's heavy-handed."
The Town of Caledon plans to soften the blow by financing the group's appeal of the verdict, a potentially lengthy three-step process, and paying fines if it comes to that.
"The municipality has always indicated that we are fully supporting the double-hatters in all avenues, including potential fines," said Mike Galloway, chief administrative officer for the town. "We're not backing down in any way."
The province's small towns have long fought the union's injunction against double-hatting, arguing that more full-time firefighters in their communities would be impractical and too expensive. On Thursday, the Association of Municipalities of Ontario condemned the Brampton verdict.
"The IAFF is prepared to drive up firefighting costs at the expense of other municipal services that keep people safe and healthy – like safe water, safe roads, policing and paramedics," AMO president Lynn Dollin said in a statement.
The growing exurban communities around Toronto have been flashpoints for the conflict over double-hatting in recent years, as clusters of small towns blossom into modern municipalities, and once-rural fire halls are stretched thin by growing populations.
Caledon employs 22 full-time firefighters for a population of about 60,000, along with some 250 volunteers. About 20 per cent of those volunteers are double-hatters, whose experience and training make them coveted.
Mr. LeBlanc said he hoped that prosecutions of double-hatters would encourage towns such as Caledon to increase their roster of full-time, unionized firefighters.
"Should the complement maybe be more like 50, 60 full-time and 150 volunteers?" he said. "Maybe Caledon needs to sit down and have another look at it."
In the meantime, long-time double-hatters such as Ms. Gould remain unbowed.
"Honestly, I have no idea what is to come," she said on Thursday. "Right now, we're going to continue volunteering."