New association aims to end systemic anti-Black racism in Canada’s construction industry

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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.