By Lyonel Doherty
A group of Oliver residents is opposing the reinstatement of a member of the fire department after he recently admitted in court to causing a woman to fear for her safety.
About a dozen people, mainly women, filled the public gallery in council chambers Monday night to protest the Town reinstating Travis Bolenback. He was in court last week facing charges of unlawfully being in a dwelling house (his neighbour’s) in May of 2017.
The woman claimed he entered her house and touched her leg while she was sleeping on a couch.
Read more: Oliver firefighter ordered to keep the peace
When the initial story was published last year, Bolenback said the case was merely a dispute between neighbours. The Chronicle asked him for a statement earlier this week, but no comment was received by our press deadline Tuesday. He did say earlier that he had no problem going to trial but didn’t want to wait any longer to get his life back on track. He said the subsequent peace bond was initiated by the complainant’s lawyer.
A trial was slated in Penticton court last week, but both the Crown and the defence agreed on a 12-month peace bond. Bolenback was ordered to have no direct or indirect contact with the complainant, and must keep the peace and good behaviour, in addition to counselling. There was no conviction or admission of guilt, however, after being asked by the judge, Bolenback acknowledged that his actions caused the woman to fear for her personal safety.
Following the court resolution, the Town of Oliver immediately reinstated Bolenback to regular duties on the fire department, where he had been on a leave of absence.
On Monday, the emotionally distraught victim sat in the gallery with friends and supporters.
Small business owner Andrea Furlan read a statement to council, admitting she was a survivor of abuse. The woman said she was standing up for people whose voices are currently stifled or living in fear. She stated she has no personal relationship with Bolenback, 35.
Furlan said the Oliver Fire Department recently drafted a code of conduct for its members. She noted the nature of firefighting places all members in a position of public trust and scrutiny, therefore, this requires a level of conduct that is beyond reproach.
She stressed it is important that all members strive to achieve the highest level of ethical and professional conduct to maintain integrity.
“How then, can the Town of Oliver justify the immediate reinstatement of Travis Bolenback?”
Furlan asked council if bullying should be condoned or allowed to be practiced by anyone holding a position of responsibility.
She said Bolenback admitted to causing a single mother of two to fear for herself and her family’s safety. Yet he was returned to duty before the victim even got home from court to talk to her family, she pointed out.
According to Furlan, three other women have come forward with concerns about Bolenback’s behaviour in three separate incidents.
She then asked council to “do the right thing” and dismiss Bolenback from his duties.
Mayor Ron Hovanes said it is a travesty that people had to wait this long in court to reach a resolution.
“I want you to know that I hear you.”
But he noted this case is a personnel issue and a legal issue, therefore, it is confined to a set of rules that don’t allow council to discuss the matter publicly.
“I want you to know that your comments, your concerns and faces are all taken under advisement.”
Hovanes added there needs to be a conversation between council and management.
Furlan acknowledged council’s position, but said if these four women hesitate to call 911 for any emergency for fear of having Bolenback come into their home, who will be responsible for that? “This needs to take immediate action.”
Councillor Dave Mattes said a code of conduct has been drawn up for all Town employees because of issues they’ve had in Oliver over the years.
“We came to realize that in fact we needed a code of conduct . . . so some good has come out of the bad.”
Local resident Shirley Zelinski asked council when they can expect an answer.
“We have a real concern here. We want to know the result. We think you have a problem. We know the community has a problem . . . like, you’re losing our trust.”