As Canada marks the beginning of Black History Month, a new not-for-profit organization aimed at ending racial discrimination in the country’s construction industry has formally launched.
“You have a hard time getting into it and if you do get into it there’s a lot of mental fatigue,” Stephen Callender, president of the Afro-Canadian Contractors Association (ACCA), told Global News Monday afternoon, reflecting on the challenges facing Black contractors looking to enter and ascend the construction industry.
“When working on the sites, you see comments in the washroom and you look at the comments around you.”
For Callender and others, Monday’s formal public launch comes after years of hard work and many conversations on what’s needed to end racial inequality in the industry.
“The problem is retention is pretty low because by the time (youth) get into the construction trades, racism is apparent. They don’t see anyone of their colour. They feel neglected,” he said.
“Some people did not believe that there was a racism problem in construction. There’s racism in the corporations and big businesses downtown as well.”
In 2018, Callender said there was an emerging desire on the part of some contractors, including one of ACCA’s co-founders, to hire Black tradespeople and to have a unified voice. But he said there hasn’t been a central resource for employers and companies to tap into while some contractors have been forced to give up and take whatever jobs they can.
“A lot of contractors out there are small, they don’t have access to a lot of projects because a lot of the big general contractors claim — and maybe rightfully so — they couldn’t find them because there’s no place to advertise,” Callender said.
Fast-forward to 2020, which marked a turning point for the initiative. He said while racism has always existed, the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis brought it to the forefront. However, Toronto saw multiple instances of nooses being placed in construction sites across the city.
Richard Whyte, who works as the chief estimator with EllisDon Corporation’s civil projects division in Toronto, said the ACCA’s formation comes at a pivotal time, especially after two construction projects associated EllisDon projects saw nooses placed at the sites.
“The Canadian construction industry has no choice but to admit there is a serious problem when it comes to systemic anti-Black racism in addition to the brazen acts of hate that have been targeting Black people in the industry for far longer than what has recently come to light in the news in the past year,” he said in a statement on Monday.
“The formation of a centralized conduit through which the industry can form business relationships with Black-owned construction companies as well as increase representation amongst the trades is an important first step to make meaningful change to this problem.”
Meanwhile, Callender said while there are good opportunities to access training for the trades, better ways for Black contractors to access financial capital is still a major issue.
Since the organization is still new, he said ACCA is still reaching out to businesses and institutions for potential partnership opportunities. However, the group is working toward further developing an online directory of Black contractors who are available for residential projects.
Callender said he has an important message for the industry and key people within it.
“Everyone is the same regardless of your skin. Give everyone a chance,” he said.
“There is a big population of Black youth that is unemployed and with good training, they could be just as good as everyone else. Everyone just needs a chance to prove themselves.”