A look at race relations in trucking

by Abdul Latheef

TORONTO, Ont. – Trucker Ahmed Issa still remembers the testy conversation between two of his former Hyndman Transport colleagues, one white and the other African-Canadian, a few years ago.

Ahmed Issa
Ahmed Issa says the situation has improved “a lot” over the years. Photo: Ahmed Issa.

Apparently angered by the white driver’s attitude toward immigrants like him, the black man said, “You will soon be working for immigrants.”

“And, guess what happened!” Issa said.

“Hyndman went bankrupt last year. Now both of them are working for a company owned by immigrants.”

The Somali-Canadian has been driving trucks in Canada for 25 years, and he believes the situation has improved “a lot” over the past few years.

It is not just workplaces where minority drivers encounter problems.

Julius, who doesn’t want his full name to be used, said he had been harassed by a white police officer during a routine truck inspection because of his color.

“But my colleagues treat me well,” Julius said.

Munroe Thompson says his experience has been “pretty cool”. Photo: Munroe Thompson

Happy driver

Each driver’s experience is unique.

Jamaican-Canadian Munroe Thompson said he never faced any discrimination in the 26 years he has worked at Erb Transport, and that he “gets along very well” with his colleagues.

Thompson, however, said he had heard about problems at other trucking companies. He said his friends were turned away when they approached some companies for jobs.

“I am just going to be honest with you. My experience is pretty cool,” Thompson said.

“If I say there is a problem in my company, I would be lying. There is an open-door system, and all companies should be like that.”

Tragedy sparks debate

Last month’s police killing of an unarmed black man in the U.S. has sparked a fresh debate on racism there and in Canada, with many activists arguing that the situation is not much better here.

The latest poll on racism in Canada showed that 61% of those surveyed believe there is systemic racism in the country.

The Abacus Data-CityNews poll was released last week amid continuing global protests over George Floyd’s death.

It also showed that more than two-thirds of Canadians think discrimination is common in the country.

Chaplain Len believes truckers need to socialize more. Photo: Abdul Latheef/Today’s Trucking

Building bridges

What about the trucking sector?

Today’s Trucking asked Len Reimer, who drove trucks for 15 years before becoming the lead chaplain of Transport for Christ mobile church in Woodstock, Ont., in 2002.

“I would like to think that they are getting along well, but we do hear some negative comments,” Reimer said referring to friction between immigrant drivers and white truckers.

“I wish that was not the case,” he said.

Chaplain Len
Chaplain Len Reimer. Photo: Abdul Latheef/Today’s Trucking

Reimer attributed the problem to a number of reasons including fears about job security and a lack of socialization.

Reimer suggested truckers should put their differences aside and work on becoming socially friendly.

“I have spoken with young immigrants. They were looking for personal friendship, and they were having difficulty acquiring that.”

And he said, the reason for that was white Canadians were “not necessarily accepting the immigrants.”

“We (white Canadians) need to socialize and build a bridge with them,” he said.

But socializing goes both ways.

Issa, the trucker referred to at the beginning of this story, said he often finds people of all backgrounds staying in their own comfort zones, without interacting with each other.

“People don’t socialize that much.”

Sikh Festival
The face of Canadian trucking has changed over the past two decades. Here, truckers at a celebration in Toronto last year. Photo: Abdul Latheef/Today’s Trucking

Changing face

The demographics of trucking have changed dramatically over the past 20 years, with immigrants from all over the world taking jobs traditionally held by white Canadians.

A study published in 2018 by Newcom Media, the parent company of Today’s Trucking, revealed that South Asians accounted for 43.7% of immigrant truck drivers in 2016, up sharply from 8.7% in 1991.

There were 22,000 driver positions open in Canada as of October, and pre-pandemic estimates suggest that the country would need close to 50,000 truckers by 2024.

Diversity and inclusion

With young Canadians not exactly flocking to the career, an increasingly common option is hiring more immigrants, which also means companies need to embrace diversity wholeheartedly.

Trucking HR Canada has published a range of material on diversity and workplace inclusion.

Trucking HR Canada
Angela Splinter. Photo: Trucking HR

“People come to today’s workplace with different backgrounds and different needs and expectations,” said CEO Angela Splinter.

“As employers look to manage a more diverse workforce, a review of recruitment and retention approaches is needed, along with a review of workplace practices, protocols and policies to ensure an inclusive workplace. “

Splinter said diversity is the mix, and inclusion is getting the mix to work well together.

Diversity is the hallmark of Canada’s largest trucking company, TFI International.

“The proof is in the people. We have got people from all kinds of backgrounds – different countries, different religions and different perspectives,” said David Saperstein, chief financial officer at the Montreal, Que.-based conglomerate.

U.S. protests continue

Protests over the death of Floyd have continued unabated in the U.S., and in Minneapolis, Minn., where the tragedy occurred, a truck driver was arrested May 31 after he drove into a large group of peaceful demonstrators.

Officials believe the driver’s action was not intentional. He has since been released, and the investigation is continuing.

The incident has prompted the American Trucking Associations (ATA) and other industry lobbying groups to issue warnings to truckers about potential problems.

They urged the drivers to take proper precautions and avoid areas of social unrest.

Have your say

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  • We, immigrants, are treated very well in companies … because we agree to low wages, which over the past 15 years have grown by $ 500 per month. Companies refuse to hire Canadian drivers for various far-fetched reasons, in order to get a lot of work visa quotas and keep their salaries very low. Immigrants, having received documents, quit and go to other industries, and companies bring the next, ready to work for a minimum wage. Therefore, Canadians do not come into this industry.
    Today, a trucker earns an average of $ 5,000 per month gross. This is 12-14 hours daily for 5-8 days at work 24 hours a day. Nobody needs such a job …

  • Lets get rid of this BS you are either a Canadian or not there is no African Canadian or any other make up of Canadian. We are one country and we live by Canadian rules. There is no place for RACISM in this country.

  • I believe the racial issues exist in Canadian trucking due to the economic structure . There is a strong belief that drivers from immigrated status work for less thus stealing jobs or reducing income of current jobs. This theory started in the dump truck business which if you look for whatever reason is predominantly owned and run by folks of East Indian roots.

  • Being an immigrant myself from the Netherlands I have nothing against anyone! The only threat I feel now that I’ve been Canadian for almost 25 years is this = We moved here and adapted to the Canadian culture, speaking Canadian was our top priority, learning and respecting Canadian law was top priority, we didn’t expect any hand out, any language favours , we don’t expect safety warning signs to be posted in Dutch, we don’t expect there to be a Dutch speaking officer at every Canadian weigh scale, we don’t expect the courts to adjust laws to favour a Dutch culture or religion! And why is it that a friend of mine, also a trucker in the Netherlands has been denied immigration, and repeatedly told there is no need for Drivers in Canada?? That is what frustrates the general white folk! Call it what you want , but that is NOT racism towards anyone but whites!

  • Socializing is the weak point. People of other cultures keep their practices and beliefs. This is a divisive action. They very often use the same practices here as in their native country.
    While the North American training/ practice is for defensive driving and safety- other country cultures don’t believe in it or support it.
    Racism is a ‘catch’ word. Everyone doesn’t like anyone. Socializing makes the difference , but the media promotes all this ‘unfair ‘ treatment to whoever makes the best sound bite.
    In small communities where there are no large groups of any nationality everyone learns to get along and assimilate. When you get into large communities then you have the grouping and seperation issues.
    Racism and bullying are the hot topics to ‘change the world. When you can manipulate human nature then maybe things will change