Black History Month
Black Canadians, and Black Canadian Construction workers in particular, have often been a forgotten part of Canadian History. For Black History Month, we would like to shed light on the history of black workers in our industry and our society at large.
Black Canadians played pivotal roles in both World Wars. Despite segregation, hundreds of Black Canadians served alongside their white counterparts in both Canada and Europe in World War II. While some last traces of discrimination continued in Canadian military recruiting practices into the mid-1950s, Black Canadians became more established in the Royal Canadian Navy and Royal Canadian Air Force, as well.
On 14 March 1944, the Racial Discrimination Act made Ontario the first province to respond to social change. This landmark legislation prohibited the publication or display of any symbol, sign, or notice that conveyed ethnic, racial, or religious discrimination. This Act sparked other sweeping legislation across the country, which was reconsolidated into provincial human rights codes and the Canadian Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms decades later.
Historically, the Black community sought to improve their economic status by entering the skilled trades as unions could facilitate education and promote equality of opportunity. When the labour movement took hold in Canada near the end of the 19th century, workers began organizing and forming trade unions to improve employees' working conditions and quality of life. However, Black workers were systematically denied membership to these unions, and workers' protection was reserved exclusively for whites. During this period, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists was established, and a concerted effort was made for affirmative action seats for racial minorities on the Canadian Labour Congress and Ontario Federation of Labour Boards.
Unfortunately, racism persists and continues to be an issue facing the industry. In 2020, the sector was shaken by several heinous acts of racism on construction sites, causing many industry associations, including the OGCA, to take action.
Our role as a construction association is to shed light on these serious issues and take meaningful steps to ensure ICI construction leads the development of respectful and inclusive workplaces. We have worked across the industry with RESCON, the Toronto Community Benefits Network, and organized labour partners to break down barriers and encourage more underrepresented communities to find meaningful construction careers.
For more information about how you can make sites free from racism and steps we have taken to encourage underrepresented communities, visit www.ogca.ca.