Emancipation Day 2021

July 30, 2021

On March 24, 2021, the House of Commons voted unanimously to officially designate August 1 as Emancipation Day.

This date marks the beginnings of the abolition of slavery in the British colonial empire through the Slavery Abolition Act, which passed in 1833 and came into effect on August 1, 1834. The act saw the partial liberation of both Black and Indigenous Peoples enslaved in Canada and other countries within the British colonial empire.

Emancipation Day has been celebrated unofficially across Canada since 1834, most notably in Ontario, where the day gained provincial acknowledgement in 2008.

Canadians are not always aware that Black and Indigenous Peoples were once enslaved on the land that is now Canada. Those who fought enslavement were pivotal in shaping our society to be as diverse as it is today.

Therefore, each August 1, Canadians are invited to reflect, educate and engage in the ongoing fight against anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism and discrimination.

Emancipation Day celebrates the strength and perseverance of Black and Indigenous communities in Canada.

“Recognizing Emancipation Day at the federal level is a step forward in acknowledging the multi-generational harms caused by slavery,” said Emelyana Titarenko, spokesperson for Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth Bardish Chagger, in an interview with CBC News.

Context and history

Canada’s history of slavery begins as early as the first explorers, who often kidnapped Indigenous Peoples to bring back to Europe as enslaved people. When colonial settlers began to establish themselves in Canada, they also enslaved Black and Indigenous Peoples.

Canada’s movement to abolish slavery was drawn out and hard fought. The first motion for abolition came with Upper Canada’s Act to Limit Slavery, banning the further import of enslaved people, and set limitations on the length of time in which children born to enslaved mothers could be forced into servitude (children could no longer be enslaved beyond the age of 25). Passed in 1793 by Lieutenant Governor John Simcoe, Emancipation Day is known as Simcoe Day in parts of Ontario.

The Slavery Abolition Act (1833) formally abolished slavery across the British colonial empire, although it also allowed currently enslaved people to continue to be used while renamed as “apprentices” if above the age of 6. However, this act did encourage many enslaved people from the United States to escape to freedom in Canada.

Full emancipation for all enslaved people in Canada was achieved five years later, in 1838.

Today, advocates continue to push for reparations from the Canadian government, including an official apology to descendants of enslaved peoples. However, the adoption of Emancipation Day can be seen as a step towards acknowledging and atoning for the crimes committed in Canada’s history.

Looking for suggestions on ways for you to fight anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism and discrimination in your lives and communities? Our list of resources and calls to action against anti-Black racism and violence and list of ways to support Indigenous communities can act as a starting point.

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