UPDATE: Dec. 8: The Toronto Police Service has arrested a man as part of its investigation into nooses left on construction sites in the city this summer.
Jason Lahay, 34, of Toronto, has been charged with mischief to property over $5,000 and three counts of criminal harassment in relation to one noose left on the Michael Garron Hospital jobsite. According to local media reports, Lahay worked for a subcontractor on the project. He is scheduled to appear in court on Jan. 13.
The contractor on the project, EllisDon, worked with police on the investigation. CEO Geoff Smith said in a statement that despite the arrest, a great deal more work needs to be done to eliminate hate crimes and systemic racism in the construction industry. "Our work is not over, it has just begun," he said.
- In the wake of a public letter from its hospital client about racist acts on its jobsite, Canadian contractor EllisDon has upped the reward for information leading to the conviction of the perpetrators tenfold to $50,000 and set up an anonymous tip line.
- EllisDon posted an update to the steps it’s taking to quell racist acts at its Michael Garron Hospital jobsite, where at least four nooses have been found over the last several months. The continued discoveries prompted a public letter from hospital CEO Sarah Downey that chastised the contractor for not doing enough to stop the racist incidents.
- EllisDon, Canada’s second largest contractor with $4.4 billion in revenue in 2019, had initially offered a $5,000 reward; it stated it increased that amount to $50,000 after receiving "meaningful community feedback." In the update to its website the company stated: “We are determined to find and convict the individual(s) responsible for the racist activities. If you have any information, please anonymously call EllisDon’s Compliance line at 1-888-253-1655.”
The increased reward comes as construction companies across North America are taking action to root out racist acts on their jobsites, where nearly 20 reported hate-related incidents have occurred in 2020.
Some firms, such as New York-based Turner Construction, have shut down high-profile jobsites where racist incidents have occurred, and required all workers to go through anti-bias training. It fired a subcontractor in Seattle that would not comply with its requirements.
Last week, Turner posted a strongly worded video on YouTube that spelled out, in detail, the types of behaviors and visual displays that it won’t tolerate on its jobs, including offensive tattoos that workers must cover up, even in summer, and the banning of Confederate flags on vehicles in jobsite parking lots.
The video concludes with a call to action for all contractors. "We need everyone to be anti-racist and take a stance against hate so that we can change our industry," the video's narration says.
But some industry observers see a zero-tolerance policy toward racism in construction as unrealistic, given the industry's severe labor shortage. In-demand workers such as experienced superintendents, they say, aren't likely to get fired for racist attitudes when project budgets and deadlines hang in the balance.
EllisDon, however, like Turner, appears to be taking its own zero-tolerance approach.
The firm, which didn't respond to inquiries from Construction Dive by the deadline for this article, also said it was increasing its anti-racist measures at all of its jobsites, including a vow to “expel any individual from an EllisDon jobsite who is found to commit a racist or discriminatory act” and increasing “sanctions for our sub-trades found accountable for racist or discriminatory actions, both the individual(s) involved, as well as the company.”
In addition to the increased, $50,000 reward at the Michael Garron Hospital site, EllisDon also stated that it had installed additional security cameras, increased security staff onsite and changed all locks and door codes. Furthermore, it said it was engaging “independent investigators to assist law enforcement as recommended.”
Kim Slowey contributed to this report.