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Monday, September 27, 2021

‘Everyone has a right to work’: Group aims to address anti-Black racism in Canada’s construction industry

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A new group is focusing on organizing and mentoring Black contractors and other racialized professionals in Canada’s construction industry to help address unfair hiring practices and racism on the job.

Stephen Callender, the president of the Afro-Canadian Contractors Association (ACCA), told CTV’s Your Morning the group wants to advance Black entrepreneurs in the construction industry.

“First [we] want to educate Black entrepreneurs that there is a share of this industry that we can get. Also to let general contractors know, and even homeowners know, that there is a place if they want to find Black contractors to work on any projects,” Callender explained in an interview on Monday.

The ACCA officially launched Feb. 1 to coincide with Black History Month. While the organization is based in Toronto, Callender said he and its other directors hope to expand the group across the country.

Callender said the goal of the organization is to break down barriers that Black contractors face trying to get started in the business and if they are established, help land more lucrative contracts for larger projects.

Callender said some provincial governments have recently made it mandatory to include minorities and racialized people in hiring practices for construction workers, however, he says that is not enough.

“There was a meeting in Ottawa a couple years ago that one general contractor told the federal government that they cannot find Black contractors, and that was a problem that we saw and that’s why we started this organization,” Callender said.

Callender, who has worked in various forms of construction over the years, said he understands the trials of Black workers well, having immigrated from Barbados in 1976. He says racism existed in construction long before racist incidents, including the death of Minnesota man George Floyd, got the public’s attention last summer.

“People fail to realize that construction was always racialized, there’s always racist comments left on the washrooms,” Callender said.

“The reason why it was always a very hard time for [Black] contractors to get involved in construction, some don’t know, some are not allowed,” he added.

Callender said the events surrounding Floyd’s death actually spurred more intense and public forms of racism on construction sites.

“Over the years, the unions and contractors were trying… to eliminate it from sites, so it went hidden. With the Floyd incidents, more people I guess felt that they can now break out of the toilet and put it on sites and that’s when you saw more graffiti, and then the nooses on construction sites,” he explained.

While actions have been taken to ensure construction sites are safe workplaces for everyone, Callender said there is still more work that needs to be done.

“The only way you can eradicate [racism] is by discussing it, and letting people know that this is not right. Everyone has a right to work wherever they are, regardless in construction or any industry,” Callender said.

Callender said racism needs to be tackled “head on” for change to happen, instead of “going around it.”

“A lot of times you go around [racism] because it’s the easier way than confronting it,” he said.

Callender said the years of racism he experienced made him realize that an organization like the ACCA was necessary in addressing racism on Canada’s construction sites and reducing the stigma for Black contractors.

“Some of the stuff I see that we’re fighting [is] very emotional, that’s why I decided to get involved and help get this organization going and get us started,” he said.

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