On March 24, Members of Parliament voted unanimously to legislate the acknowledgement of Emancipation Day to be on August 1st across Canada. The date commemorates the abolishment of slavery throughout the British colonies, including Canada, by British Parliament on August 1, 1834.
The designated day is meant to celebrate the strength and perseverance of Black and Indigenous people while also challenging individual and institutional racism. On this day, Canadians will be invited to reflect, educate and engage in the ongoing fight against prejudice and discrimination.
PSAC welcomes the enactment of this designated day as it aligns with our overall fight against anti-Black racism and the pursuit of reconciliation for Indigenous peoples. Canada’s historical involvement in slavery is often glossed over and untaught. Enacting Emancipation Day is an important step towards honouring the contributions of Indigenous people, and people of African descent in Canada, while recognizing the multi-generational harm caused by slavery. PSAC encourages the acknowledgement of the wrongs of the past so that we can build an inclusive and equitable future.
For nearly 400 years, an estimated 12 million African children, women, and men were abducted and trafficked to the Caribbean, North America and South America to work as slaves. The transatlantic slave trade caused the deaths of millions of Africans. Many lost their lives as resistance fighters, during long marches to slave ships, or from mistreatment and malnourishment while traveling across the Atlantic. It’s estimated over 2 million Africans died during transport alone. Those who arrived were forced to change their names, faiths, and to stop speaking their native tongues. Forced to do field-work, general labour and domestic duties, Black slaves were instrumental in building the economies of the colonies that enslaved them.
Emancipation Day also marks the end of the enslavement of Indigenous peoples, who represented two-thirds of Canada’s enslaved population until 1750. French colonies relied heavily on Indigenous slaves to harvest food, build the trading economy and to survive Canada’s harsh climate. After British settlers established Upper Canada, the number of Black slaves increased significantly and eventually outnumbered Indigenous slaves.
In 1834, the Slavery Abolition Act received royal assent, banning slavery throughout the British colonies. Although slavery was abolished in Canada, it continued in the United States until the conclusion of the Civil War in 1865, ending the practice throughout all North America.