Tag Archives: emancipation day

Emancipation Day: The ongoing fight for justice and reconciliation

Drawing of dove and broken chains for emancipation day

For more than 200 years, enslavement of Black and Indigenous people was considered the norm and even an economic necessity in the British Empire, including in Canada.

In 1796, Dimbo Suckles, an enslaved Black man in Prince Edward Island, was freed, but only if he continued to work with no compensation for seven more years.

In 1800, an enslaved woman known only as Nancy took her owner to the New Brunswick Supreme Court to sue for her freedom. Unsurprisingly, the court sided with her enslaver.

In 1807, a bill was introduced in the British Parliament that would lead to the eventual – but partial – abolition of slavery. Then, on August 1, 1834, the Slavery Abolition Act (the Act) was passed, which freed more than 800,000 Black people in Britain’s overseas colonies, including what was to become Canada. However, the Act only provided for ‘partial liberation’.

Children under the age of six were emancipated, while others were retained as ‘apprentices’ by enslavers for four to six years. Following this, the Slavery Compensation Act was adopted in 1837 to compensate enslavers for what was unjustly viewed as their loss, while those who had been enslaved received no compensation. Even more appalling, was that these compensations continued until 2015. Even with a legislative end to slavery, injustice continues.

This is a day to revisit the false narrative of Canada as a safe haven for enslaved people. Slavery was practiced in Canada, including the enslavement of Indigenous peoples. For instance, in New France, the first form of slavery commonly practiced was the enslavement of Indigenous peoples.

On Emancipation Day, we recognize the struggle for freedom led by enslaved people, the consequences of inter-generational trauma that followed, and the link between slavery and systemic discrimination today. Discrimination in hiring practices, wage gaps, microaggressions, and other inequities continue to be the reality for many Indigenous and Black workers.

It is our responsibility to educate ourselves on the impacts of slavery, and its continued influence in Canada.

As a union, we must make meaningful efforts to better represent the interests of our members in their workplaces. For PSAC it means reflecting on our ongoing fight for action and justice to combat anti-Black racism, and work towards reconciliation with Indigenous communities.

PSAC supports calls for reparations for descendants of enslaved people in Canada. Acknowledgment, restitution, and compensation for harm suffered because of the transatlantic slave trade is a requirement to move towards justice.

Ways to get engaged and take action

Discover Rosemary Sadlier who led the efforts to get Black History Month and Emancipation Day recognized in Canada.

Explore PSAC’s anti-racism resources.

View PSAC’s anti-racism employment equity toolkit for members

Discover the contributions of Black workers in building Canada’s economy and in pushing the labour movement to where it is today.

Learn more about the class action lawsuit filed on behalf of Black federal employees seeking to address systemic racism and discrimination in the Public Service of Canada.

Lobby your local elected officials to have Emancipation Day recognized in your area.

Use this resource to research if your family benefitted from enslavement.

Join a PSAC Human Rights Committee near you.

This article was first posted on the PSAC website.

PSAC recognizes Canada’s first Emancipation Day

Drawing of dove and broken chains for emancipation day

On August 1, Canadians will have the opportunity to recognize Emancipation Day nationally for the first time since Members of Parliament voted unanimously to designate the day earlier this year.

Emancipation Day is an opportunity to commemorate the abolition of slavery in most of the British Empire, including Canada, in 1834. It reminds us of the inter-generational trauma and harm caused by slavery and commemorates the resilience of Black and Indigenous people, while acknowledging the need for action, justice and reconciliation.

Over the past year, we’ve seen the injustices faced by Black and Indigenous people around the world, and we’ve heard their calls for action. But change doesn’t happen overnight, or even in a year, and the work has only just begun.

Our country has a painful history of slavery that remains obscure to many Canadians. The official recognition of Emancipation Day by the federal government is a welcome step forward on the path to reconciliation by bringing long overdue awareness to Canada’s troubling and racist past.

Slavery was gradually introduced in Canada beginning in the 16th century. Indigenous peoples were the first to be enslaved, accounting for two thirds of Canada’s slave population before 1750. After 1760, Black people were brought to Canada through the transatlantic slave trade in greater numbers, and they eventually became the predominant enslaved group.

Although Black and Indigenous peoples experienced slavery differently, both were dehumanized, taken from their homes and families, trafficked, and bought and sold as commodities. The intergenerational reverberations of slavery are felt in the continued systemic racism and inequities experienced by Black and Indigenous peoples to this day.

Emancipation Day offers an opportunity to reflect on these atrocities and work toward a more inclusive and mindful future. By taking both personal and collective action, we can achieve a more equitable and just Canada.

Here are some small ways you can make a difference:

  • OBSERVE: Seek out the ways Emancipation Day is being recognized in your community or province
  • EDUCATE: Visit your local library for books about slavery in Canada
  • ACT: Join a PSAC Human Rights Committee near you

This article has also been posted on the PSAC website.