August 1 marks Emancipation Day in Canada. On August 1, 1834, the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 came into effect and commemorates the day slavery was abolished across the British Empire. It was only last year that the Federal government unanimously voted to officially designate August 1 Emancipation Day in Canada. On this day nearly 200 years ago, over 800,000 enslaved people of African descent across the Caribbean, Africa, South America and in Canada became free.
On August 1, we come together to remember and educate everyone about the ongoing fight against discrimination and anti-Black racism. This is a moment for pause to reflect on the past, the present and to chart a path forward towards a more equal future.
In 2022 we depart from the traditional daylong Emancipation Day celebration and take it a step further as the month of August has been proclaimed Emancipation Month by jurisdictions, such as, the City of Toronto and the Province of Ontario. It rightly recognizes both the strides in progress and the continued struggle to ensure that the human rights of all Black people are upheld, promoted and protected.
Most recently, OPSEU/SEFPO members participated in local Emancipation Day weekend celebrations in their respective communities. For example, we saw the revival of the historic and long standing Emancipation Jubilee festivities in Windsor and Essex County – a decades-long tradition. Additionally, the Coalition of Racialized Workers (CoRW) has supported events and partnered with various stakeholders throughout the province that celebrate and recognize Emancipation Day. The CoRW also took an active and visible role in the return of the 2022 Toronto Caribbean Carnival and Grand Parade. These parades date back to the late 18th century in Trinidad and Tobago as a form of celebration of the emancipation from slavery. This year the camaraderie was even more meaningful given in the past couple of years there was an inability to gather due to the pandemic.
The residual effects of slavery still remain and reverberate within Canadian society. It is, without a doubt, one of the most embedded root causes of systemic anti-Black racism that permeates within our government institutions, workplaces, criminal justice system and in the labour movement. In spite of this, we continue to see the growing representation of Black people in distinguished roles within fields, such as, academia, politics, business, arts, television, and in medicine. However, these milestones do not mean that our work is over. The resolve of the Black community will be to continue to fight for justice, equality and freedom as this will not end overnight. Throughout this month we pay homage to the changemakers who continuously work towards creating a world where Black people can live without being oppressed.
This conversation must not only begin on August 1 and culminate at the end of the month but rather it needs to be an ongoing dialogue about eliminating anti-Black hate and systemic racism. This battle does not end until full liberation is achieved for all of our Black OPSEU/SEFPO members, colleagues, friends and their families.
We must stand shoulder to shoulder as allies when strongly denouncing acts of hatred and anti-Black racism as it continues to rise. Nevertheless, the resilience and unity among the Black community remains ubiquitous and strong.
Emancipation Day and Month is a time to reinforce the strength of the Black community, show our support, and commit to fighting against all forms of anti-Black racism so that Canada’s shameful and disgraceful past and present can be acknowledged and addressed. It is only by understanding our past that we can change and create a better future.
JP Hornick, OPSEU/SEFPO President
Laurie Nancekivell, OPSEU/SEFPO First Vice-President/Treasurer
Peter Thompson, OPSEU/SEFPO Chair, Coalition of Racialized Workers