Commemorating Emancipation Day: August 1, 2021

Fight Against Racism. Illustration of a diverse group of people

August 1 is Emancipation Day in Canada, which commemorates the day when slavery was abolished across the British Empire. Earlier this year, the House of Commons voted unanimously to designate this as a federal day in Canada. Senator Wanda Thomas of Nova Scotia first introduced Bill S255 in the Senate back in 2018.

On this day in 1834, hundreds of thousands of people of African descent were declared free after more than 400 years of enslavement and ownership by white slave owners.

“We must remember that slavery also existed in Canada and it’s our responsibility to eliminate its legacy that continues today,” said OPSEU/SEFPO President Warren (Smokey) Thomas. “OPSEU/SEFPO is proud to champion and advocate for equity, diversity, and inclusion in our union, our province and our country. We do not tolerate or condone acts of anti-Black racism, discrimination, or any other forms of racism.”

The abolition of slavery was not without a fight. In Nova Scotia, Canadian slave owners petitioned the Nova Scotia House of Assembly in 1807 to let them continue holding their slaves, or alternatively to be compensated, because “property in Negroes was maintained and acknowledged, if not encouraged,” by the British government.

Sadly, the end of legalized slavery has not successfully eroded the intergenerational trauma suffered by peoples of African descent. By connecting to, and reflecting on our past, we are able to better understand how slavery and racial discrimination are so deeply intertwined; how together, they solidify the roots of anti-Black racism, oppression, and the continued marginalization of Black people in Canada and around the world.

“What is forgotten is likely to be repeated,” said Peter Thompson, Chair of OPSEU/SEFPO’S Coalition of Racialized Workers (CoRW). “It is necessary for us to understand the historical context of Emancipation Day as an essential chapter of our common history.”

In commemorating Emancipation Day, OPSEU/SEFPO encourages and urges all members to engage in difficult conversations and to explore how we can do things differently, as individuals and collectively, to eliminate anti-Black racism in the labour movement and in society.

“Black people continue to experience systemic and institutional racism – in education, health care, housing, employment, and in the labour movement too,” said OPSEU/SEFPO First Vice-President/Treasurer Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida. “These inequalities lead to significant economic disparities for Black people, including OPSEU/SEFPO members. Our union will continue to advocate and support all efforts to fight for justice and equality for all.”

Emancipation Day reminds us of the wrongs done in the past, how they’ve affected our communities, and more importantly, how much work still remains in achieving fully, the economic and social emancipation of Black, Indigenous and racialized peoples and communities.

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