IUPAT rep Dawns honoured by Ontario Black History Society

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Ivan Dawns, the first Black union representative with the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) in Ontario and a staunch supporter of Black community causes in the Toronto region, has been honoured by the Ontario Black History Society (OBHS) with a High Achievement Award.

The Black History Month citation recognized Dawns’s support for young people with social and economic barriers, his mentorship with the Toronto Community Benefits Network’s NextGen program, his leadership as a member of the Central Ontario Building Trades Central Committee and the African American Community Organizing for Real Economic Committee, and his hands-on support for the Helping Hands school-building program in his homeland of Jamaica.

Chris Campbell of the Carpenters’ Union submitted a letter in support of Dawns’s OBHS nomination in which he called him a trailblazer who is respected throughout the labour movement for his honesty and dedication.
“He is a pioneer,” Campbell commented. “I have a lot of respect for him.”

After nooses were found at construction sites in Toronto in 2020, Dawns joined Campbell in publicly speaking out on racism in the construction sector — at the time, some Black colleagues remained silent, fearing pushback, Campbell said.

That same summer, Campbell, Dawns and others handed out flyers to Black parents and youths one Saturday morning extolling the value of a unionized construction job. Dozens of young people showed up within a week inquiring about next steps, Campbell said.

“He cares. He’s a father. He goes out there trying to make a difference. I admire that in him because we need folks like that who want to make a difference, who want to reach those youths in our neighbourhood.”
Another supporter of his nomination, Linden King, chair of Mississauga’s Black Caucus anti-racism strategy committee, wrote that Dawns is a “tireless advocate for our community.

“Through his organizational roles and through countless instances of personal initiative and leadership, he works hard to make our communities an even better place to live, with a particular focus on the least advantaged in our midst.” Dawns, who organized a team that handed out turkey dinners for 250 at the Back Door Mission in Oshawa this past Christmas Day and paid for it himself, said he was grateful for the OBHS recognition.
“It is long overdue because I think it’s the first time someone from the construction industry has got this award,” he said.

Dawns was on the tools as a drywall finisher for 13 years before being invited to work for the union in 2013. Besides being a business rep, he serves as IUPAT political director. He said he loves the varied union work he performs, at times helping keep IUPAT members safe and productive — a duty that was especially intense during the first months of the pandemic, he recalled — while also offering personal mentorship to workers and going to bat for them if a grievance emerges.

“That’s what I love to do, to make sure my members have been paid properly, and they have the benefits that they deserve,” he said.

Dawns’s OBHS honour, the Dr. Anderson Abbott Award, was named for the nation’s first Canadian-born Black doctor. Dawns mentioned the pioneering doctor in his acceptance speech delivered during a Zoom brunch.
“Being the first carries with it a great deal of responsibility,” he said. “Daily I am mindful of the example I set for those who come after me.”



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