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Health-care workers rally against racism after nooses found at hospital construction site

Unionized health-care employees staged an anti-racism protest Tuesday after construction workers repeatedly found nooses this year at Michael Garron Hospital in East York.

The demonstration comes after a third racist incident in the span of four months on the site where an extension to the hospital is being built.

The first was back in June when two Black construction workers came upon a pair of nooses hanging at the site, managed by the company EllisDon, with police investigating the incidents as possible hate crimes. Then, in late September, two more nooses were found at the site. 

“Beyond it being really hateful, it’s really baffling and confusing that someone or individuals would be this bold, to be this brazen and committed — the energy that they took to make sure that they’d not be seen, it’s actually scary,” said union member Ainsworth Spence.

“This is a very diverse hospital. It’s a diverse community, so clearly it’s meant for maximum impact because it’s going to be seen by the folks who are going to be impacted the most.”

In the wake of the death of George Floyd, says Spence, many organizations and corporations seemed to be shaken awake to the reality of anti-Black racism, issuing statements of solidarity with Black people and people of colour.”

“But we need more than statements,” said Spence. “We’ve been calling for equity and inclusion, fairness and equality forever. Clearly nothing has been done, so sure, thank you for your statementsc … but also there needs to be concrete action.”

The anti-racism rally, held in front of the hospital, was physically distanced. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Chief among the workers’ demands is for the heads of hospital and the construction company to meet with them, something the Services Employees International Union (SEIU) says still hasn’t happened.

“Enough is enough,” said Mina Amrith, SEIU executive vice president.

“We are told that we are health-care heroes, we are here trying to take care of our patients, trying to take care of our families and the communities but also now having to experience racism on a daily basis.”

Hospital CEO calls for stronger response from EllisDon

Representatives from Michael Garron Hospital did not agree to an interview with CBC News on Tuesday, but pointed to a letter penned by the hospital’s president and CEO, Sarah Downey, calling for more action by EllisDon.

“I appreciate the serious response taken by EllisDon in responding to these incidents, including involving Toronto Police Service, conducting safety stand downs on the site, offering support to the workers and offering financial reward for information that leads to charges. It is clear, however, that this disturbing trend requires a stronger and louder response,” the letter said in part. 

“I am calling on EllisDon to do more to stop racist acts on your construction sites and on our hospital property. Access to the job site at [Michael Garron Hosptial] is managed by EllisDon. We believe more security and safety controls are required to safeguard the site to ensure that whoever is responsible for these acts is identified and prosecuted,” it continued.

“Finally, I am asking for EllisDon to be a louder voice in our East Toronto community, sharing publicly the actions you are taking to dismantle anti-Black racism and to ensure the safety of the construction workers who work on this site.”

Downey noted in the letter that, after the first incident in June, the community showed solidarity through a “community artivism installation” that involved messages of support to workers affected by racism. The messages also indicated that hate will not be tolerated. 

She wrote that the hospital tried to “heal” the site in August by inviting Elder Little Brown Bear, the hospital’s director of aboriginal education, programs and culture, to smudge the construction site and its workers.

The hospital also installed the final structural beam at the top of the new patient care centre being and called it a “unity beam” to signify the “coming together of the community in solidarity and the structure together as a whole.”

The beam contains signatures and positive messages.

“We stand with our community. We stand united against hate,” the letter says.

The construction company did not respond to a request for an interview with CBC News on Tuesday. 

Meanwhile, says health-care worker Jackie Walker, many employees at the hospital feel their concerns aren’t being dealt with.

“We feel and we’ve heard from workers who say that their voices aren’t being heard and that this issue of racism is not being addressed,” Walker said, adding employers have a duty to keep their workers safe.

“We can’t deal with silence. To create change and to evoke change we need to have meaningful conversations.”

A worker walks by a sign on a construction site at Michael Garron Hospital. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)


For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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