The groundswell of Ontario construction stakeholders condemning racism in the sector and pledging to take concrete steps to eradicate it continues to build.
Toronto Mayor John Tory met with executives from some of Ontario’s leading construction firms and major construction unions on consecutive Fridays this month and promised resources to further the cause, while the Residential Construction Council of Ontario (RESCON) has banded together with other stakeholder associations and announced a suite of plans to bring reforms.
“Following these two meetings, I am confident that the building and construction industry will lead the charge on tackling racism in all its forms, particularly anti-Black racism,” said Tory in a Sept. 11 statement.
Tory also praised the sector’s efforts to develop a charter of inclusive workplaces and zero-tolerance policies.
Carpenters’ union executive and president of the Toronto and York Region Labour Council John Cartwright added his comments to the statement: “Toronto’s unions are committed to addressing and challenging systemic racism, and to making construction workplaces safe and inclusive for everyone who helps build our city.”
Momentum began to build in the sector following four incidents in the GTA in June and July where nooses were found on worksites. EllisDon leadership including CEO Geoff Smith and COO Kieran Hawe have thrown their support behind a newly created in-house committee, the Alliance of Black Employee Experience and Leadership, that is tasked with recommending anti-Black racism programs.
RESCON launches CARE campaign
RESCON will convene a coalition of employers, unions and subtrades including the Ontario Residential Council of Construction Associations, the Infrastructure Health and Safety Association, Construction Employers Coalition and Construction and Design Alliance of Ontario to propose solutions to the problem.
RESCON president Richard Lyall said it would be appropriate to engage a behavioural psychologist who could recommend ways to reach the minds of racists in the sector. The roundtable, he said, would create ideas related to training and would ensure there is not a triumph of form over substance.
“We need to do some things that are more than just putting the fear of God into people that if you behave like this, you will be gone,” he said. “We need to reach out to them, not just saying, this is the law, and this is company policy, we needed to do something that changes minds.”
RESCON’s initiatives, announced Sept. 11, also included a legal webinar held that day that explored employers’ obligations when dealing with discrimination incidents, and a campaign billed as Construction Against Racism Everywhere (CARE), promoted using the hashtag #RESCONCare and with stickers handed out to be worn on construction helmets.
RESCON immediately issued a statement condemning the first noose incident in June but, Lyall said, “We realized more had to be done, it had to be meaningful. We started preparing to create visual symbols, like the hard hat symbols which are out and about now, and we wanted to do other things.”
The CARE acronym is natural for an industry in which everyone has to work together, he said.
“On a jobsite, everyone has to have everyone’s back for safety reasons. If you think you are better than someone else, that will affect behaviours, which isn’t good. That is not the way we are.
“Our industry is multicultural, that is the way we want to be. We are working on diversity and inclusion, but people need to know, women, Blacks, other races, that our industry is open to all. That our strength going forward.”
Programming recommended by the new roundtable could include a video series, Lyall suggested.
“What I am thinking about here, I think about how a Black person, in a short video, talks about how they feel and how they’ve been treated, and saying ‘this can’t go on, this is unacceptable,’ but you are hearing it from them. You can see it from someone who has experienced it. I think that is the kind of thing that can change attitudes and behaviours.”
RESCON policy and programs analyst Amina Dibe suggested further outreach should solicit input from the educational sector. She said a blitz of short- and medium-term programs is warranted but the fight will be a long haul.
“Systemic racism has existed for quite some time,” said Dibe. “If we are going to be in the business of changing people’s minds and educating, it is going to be a long-term effort. It is not something that we can say we did this, now we are done. We are continuously training and bringing people into the industry.”